Mike Brown is concerned about a potential power struggle between Owen Farrell and Marcus Smith when they both play for England next month.
Farrell and Smith have spent some time in the same squad together when they were on tour with the British and Irish Lions this summer, but the two men have yet to play on the same team together.
They will likely both start in at least one of England’s tests in November, with Smith at fly-half and Farrell at inside centre, but Brown, who has played with both on plenty of occasions, believes this would be a bad idea.
Former England full back Brown was writing in his column for the Daily Mail and argued that Farrell and Smith are unlikely to work well together in the same way that Farrell and George Ford did.
Mike Brown on Owen Farrell and Marcus Smith.
“My concern is that Owen Farrell could still be wanting to call the shots if he’s wearing the number 12 jersey. You get the best out of Marcus when he is given full control over the attack and it will only work if Owen can adapt to that,” Brown wrote.
“If there’s a power struggle on the pitch then you’ve got a problem. I saw it first hand with Owen and Danny Cipriani on the 2018 tour of South Africa.
“Danny was playing fly-half but Owen was still trying to make the calls from 12 and play it his way. You can see his body language towards Danny on the TV footage. It just didn’t work.
“Owen’s an alpha male. That’s what makes him such a good leader. He’s brilliant at team-talks, brilliant at bringing energy and brilliant at setting the tone in defence.”
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) October 18, 2021
Plenty for Eddie Jones to ponder ahead of next month.
England head coach Eddie Jones is likely to try out a 10-12 Smith-Farrell axis in at least one of his side’s three tests against Tonga, Australia and South Africa next month, but there is plenty of room for experimentation.
Smith could start with Manu Tuilagi and Henry Slade outside of him on at least one occasion, but as Jones has retained Farrell as his captain he is unlikely to relegate the Saracens man to the bench on a permanent basis.
While a centre pairing of Tuilagi and Slade is one that many opposition defences will fear, it is unlikely to be one that consistently features over the next two years due to Tuilagi’s unfortunate persistent injury struggles.
Although Smith appears to be England’s long-term solution at fly-half, there is no guarantee that he will start on a regular basis leading up to the 2023 Rugby World Cup due to Farrell’s presence, while Ford is also still in excellent form for Leicester Tigers.