Marcus Smith dropped by England as Owen Farrell starts at fly-half against Italy

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England have broken up their contentious playmaking axis of Marcus Smith and Owen Farrell as part of a revamped midfield selected for Sunday’s Guinness Six Nations clash with Italy.

Having started the last eight Tests together, Smith has been demoted to the bench to accommodate Owen Farrell’s selection at fly-half instead of inside centre.

Former England boss Eddie Jones hoped the creative alliance would blossom in time for the World Cup and Steve Borthwick retained the duo for his first game in charge against Scotland last Saturday, but they have fired only sporadically as a partnership.

Borthwick completed a significant overhaul of the midfield by replacing Joe Marchant with Henry Slade at outside centre while Ollie Lawrence fills the vacancy at 12.

Slade has recovered from the hip injury that forced him to sit out the 29-23 Calcutta Cup defeat in round one while the hard running Lawrence is promoted off the bench.

Only one change has been made to the pack with turnover specialist Jack Willis replacing Ben Curry at openside flanker for his first start since suffering a horrific knee injury in the same fixture two years ago.

Henry Arundell is poised to win his fourth cap after being named on the bench where he will provide back three cover, the ankle injury that forced him to miss the autumn now fully healed.

Owen Farrell moves to fly-half for the round two match against Italy
Owen Farrell moves to fly-half for the round two match against Italy (Adam Davy/PA)

“Notwithstanding the disappointment of last weekend’s Calcutta Cup result, we know that in a very short space of time positive steps have been taken towards the manner and style in which we want to play our rugby.

“We are at the start of what is a completely new cycle of English rugby. The implementation of new systems does take time and the squad is showing themselves to be hungry to deliver the sort of performance that we know they are capable of.

“From the squad I have selected a team for Sunday’s fixture that I believe is best placed to meet the specific challenges that Italy will bring.

“It is a selection of players whose form, individual strengths and combined qualities suit the way we want to play against Italy, in what we anticipate will be another hard-fought and entertaining spectacle.”

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