George Ford has revealed that England’s players have been teasing Marcus Smith about using rumoured interest from Racing 92 as “leverage” to negotiate his new deal at Harlequins.
Smith this week made certain he will still be available for Test selection for the foreseeable future after he signed a new contract with the 2020/21 Premiership champions.
Linked with a move to Racing 92
Top 14 outfit Racing, who will be coached by former England boss Stuart Lancaster next season, were reportedly lining up the 24-year-old as a potential replacement for Scottish playmaker Finn Russell, who has joined Bath.
“There has been a fair bit of joking going on,” Ford said of his fellow fly-half.
“Whatever the rumours were about Racing a few weeks ago, everyone was saying, ‘You were always going to stay at Quins; you were just using that as a bit of leverage’.
“I’ve spoken to him, obviously, he’s delighted to be staying, it’s his club, and the influence he has on that team is incredible, so I’m sure everyone at Quins will be buzzing for him to stay.
“I can only speak for myself, but when you’re English and you want to play for England, you’ve got to play for an English club.
“It means a lot to play at club level and international level for us all; it’s no different for Marcus.”
Ford and Smith are currently part of a 39-man preliminary World Cup squad who are hard at work at England’s Surrey training base.
Head coach Steve Borthwick is fine-tuning preparations for the upcoming global tournament in France, with four warm-up matches scheduled for August.
Borthwick was given less than nine months to prepare for rugby’s leading competition after taking over the coaching reins from Eddie Jones on December 19.
While Australia, who subsequently appointed Jones in January, and Wales have also recently changed coach, Ford believes England must be the “fastest-learning team” in order to be up to speed in time for their World Cup opener against Pool D rivals Argentina on September 9.
‘Massive opportunity for England’
Yet the 30-year-old Sale Sharks playmaker also feels the situation could benefit England.
“I think we’re in a unique place in terms of that,” said Ford, who is set to play in his third successive World Cup. “It’s a great opportunity.
“In terms of the timeframe, we’ve got to be the quickest and fastest-learning team; it’s just the nature of where we’re at.
“At the previous World Cup, we had four years together, and it was quite consistent in terms of squad, coaches et cetera, but this is a lot different.
“I still think there is a massive opportunity here and one that I don’t think is going to hold us back if we get it right. I think it could be a massive positive for us.
“Sometimes, in a funny way, when you’ve got less time to get somewhere, you’ve got less thinking and less messing around to get there.
“You’ve just got to go, and I think that’ll help us as a team.”