By Gavin Mairs
Marcus Smith will be dropped for England’s Six Nations clash with Italy on Sunday with captain Owen Farrell to be handed the fly-half position.
Steve Borthwick will make a number of changes after defeat to Scotland with the Harlequins No 10 one of those to lose their starting spot.
The experiment of the Smith-Farrell axis began in the Eddie Jones era but has failed to yield consistent results despite brief flashes of promise.
Smith, who has won 18 caps to date, has started all but one of those matches with his only involvement from the bench coming against Tonga during the 2021 autumn internationals following a limited training week.
It will be hoped that Smith’s attacking flair and dynamism can break open tired defences late on in games.
England’s new-look midfield is also expected to contain Bath’s Ollie Lawrence and the fit-again Henry Slade.
Elsewhere, Jack Willis is set to assume the openside flanker position, replacing Ben Curry who failed to make a significant impact in his first Test start.
Ben Youngs, England’s most capped scrum-half, was left out of England’s trimmed 29-man squad for Sunday after a lacklustre substitute appearance against Scotland. Jack van Poortvliet and Alex Mitchell will share the scrum-half duties in his absence.
When asked to explain Youngs’ omission, defence coach Kevin Sinfield said that it was a selection only with Italy in mind and that Youngs could be recalled down the line.
“Our view on selection is probably different to you guys,” he said. “Just because a player has left camp to go home doesn’t mean they’ve been discarded. They’re a massive part of what we’re trying to do and they’ve been outstanding.
“We’ve picked a side based on the opposition and one that we think will give us the best chance of winning.
“The change from last week has not been performance related, it’s to do with the threat that Italy pose and the way we want to play.”