England boss explains selections for Springboks clash with Marcus Smith absent

Jared Wright
England players Joe Marler, George Martin and Marcus Smith during the Rugby World Cup.

England players Joe Marler, George Martin and Marcus Smith during the Rugby World Cup.

England head coach Steve Borthwick has explained his selection calls for the Rugby World Cup semi-final against the Springboks on Saturday.

Borthwick has made just three changes to his starting line-up, with Freddie Steward coming in at full-back for Marcus Smith, Joe Marler moving into the run-on XV ahead of Ellis Genge and George Martin coming in for Ollie Chessum.

No Marcus Smith

Smith was a notable omission from the team after he impressed at full-back against Fiji while Chessum has been one of the standout forwards for England this tournament.

Speaking after the team announcement, the England boss explained that Smith was not available for selection.

This after he took a series of blows in the last-eight victory over Fiji, resulting in him finishing the match with a bandaged head and fat lip.

A tackle by wing Vinaya Habosi forced him to undergo an HIA, which he passed, but he failed the subsequent return-to-play protocols and has been stood down for Saturday’s Stade de France showdown.

“Marcus was unavailable for selection due to the return to play protocols. He was ruled out earlier in the week,” Borthwick said.

“He took a knock in the game and passed the first parts of the HIA process, which meant he finished the game.

“Then there are subsequent parts of the HIA process, and one part of that he did not pass. And then, it was confirmed to me he was unavailable for selection.

“He is perfectly fine in terms of symptoms – he doesn’t feel anything. We’d expect him to be available for selection after this weekend. It’s right to reiterate that player welfare is critical and vital to us.”

Martin over Chessum

Borthwick then explained that Martin’s selection ahead of Chessum was due to the assistance he provides his front-rowers in the scrums.

“The front-row boys, they always talk about what they think on the second-rows, some pretty direct feedback on how much weight they’re giving,” he said.

“They are usually pretty positive about the weight George Martin gives.

“He’s a young man, very athletic young man, but he is one that every challenge since I started working with him a few years ago, every challenge I’ve put in front of him, he’s embraced and ripped right into it.”

Marler over Genge

Finally, on the last change to his squad, which saw Marler move from the bench to the starting XV with Genge heading the other way, Borthwick explained that it is a competitive position in the squad, and he felt the starting and bench trio are best suited for South Africa.

“We’ve got three brilliant looseheads in this squad; Ellis has been terrific, and I thought he played really well last week,” he said.

“I think Joe coming back into the squad after some time away has also been an incredible influence around the group. Bevan Rodd is a younger player, but I would have no hesitation in Bevan being in the 23 this weekend. So, it’s a real competitive position.

“Both of these players [Marler and Genge] are top-quality scrummagers, and I think that’s really important given the strength of the South African scrum – every piece of information has them as the best scrum in the world – so, we know we are going to need to scrum well throughout the game – not just at loose-head but understanding the combination of the two sets of front row forwards we have, that’s also important.

“I think Joe to start and Ellis to finish is the right combination this week.”

READ MORE: A combined England and Springboks XV ahead of their Rugby World Cup semi-final