Anthony Watson is backing Marcus Smith to ignite Twickenham when England and France meet in a Guinness Six Nations title showdown on Saturday.
Head coach Steve Borthwick has dropped a selection bombshell by naming Smith at fly-half for ‘Le Crunch’ with Test centurion Owen Farrell demoted to the bench to accommodate his rival for the jersey.
One of the most exciting talents in English rugby has the task of implementing Borthwick’s high-tempo game plan against the Grand Slam champions and Watson insists the 24-year-old has the skills to deliver.
“We’ve seen what Marcus can do for Harlequins, ball in hand, tactical kicking. He’s got that X-Factor where he can spark a game into life,” Watson said.
“It’s mostly to do with him creating something from nothing. That’s what people tune in to watch. Fans want to see that type of thing and Marcus does that regularly.
“He’s not a one-trick pony. He can find a little grubber in behind for himself, chips, all that type of stuff.
“Equally he can beat people one-on-one. It’s his range of ability to create stuff that makes him special.”
Farrell will relieve Ellis Genge of the captaincy as soon as he steps onto the field but it remains to be seen if he replaces Smith when he appears or will instead operate at inside centre.
“Having Owen there will be big for Marcus because Owen’s been there and done it all. Owen will be the first person to help Marcus out and he’s been doing that.
“It’s not just about leaving Marcus to his own devices, everyone across the backline is going to try to impose their game within the framework.”
England face their toughest challenge of the Six Nations yet with France positioned second in the global rankings – one place behind Ireland, who the Red Rose will take on in Dublin a week later.
Borthwick has repeatedly highlighted that the World Cup hosts are putting the finishing touches to preparations for the tournament while he is just three games into rebuilding the team after Eddie Jones was sacked in December.
“There’s loads of potential. We haven’t really scratched the surface with where we’re trying to get to yet. There’s so much more we can improve on,” Watson said.
“As individual athletes, not one of us is anywhere near our potential. From my perspective definitely.”
While Smith directs operations, Watson and Max Malins will be looking to provide firepower from the wings.
“There’s quite a bit of freedom to roam. There’s probably less stringent ‘be here at this point’ compared to other coaches,” Watson said.
“It’s beneficial for guys like myself and Max to be able to have the freedom to do that.”