After weeks of frustration over the continued selection of Owen Farrell in the England side, the seemingly unthinkable (in head coach Steve Borthwick’s mind anyway) has happened – the Saracens fly-half has been dropped to the bench.

Is this a surprise? Short answer, no, not in the slightest. Farrell has made some poor mistakes at times and has lacked consistency from the tee, meaning that England have not been making the most of their opportunities when it comes to getting points onto the scoreboard.

The thing about Farrell is that you always know what you’re going to get – creativity, speed of thought and the ability to unlock spaces around the field. Unfortunately, whilst those things are prominent every time he pulls on a Saracens shirt, they never seem to translate over when he steps onto the international stage, and there have been a lot of England games recently where he has not shown a true reflection of what he can do when he does play well.

The result is that England under Borthwick have so far looked a little stodgy and lacking in ideas at times, and it was expected that there would be some ropey performances whilst the players adjusted to the new head coach’s ideas and methods. However, whilst there is a definite breath of fresh air with a lot of what they are doing, they still lack control in the middle of the field, and that is because they have so far not let go of Farrell and have persisted with including him in the starting XV despite his poor tournament to date.

What has become clear to fans and the media alike is that Borthwick is trying to implement a fast-flowing, creative and energetic style of rugby, with his players looking to make sniping runs at the breakdown, identify gaps in opposing defensive lines and take the initiative, and that has been very pleasing on the eye for large parts of their three games against Scotland, Italy and Wales.

However, Farrell favours a style of play that revolves much more around making the ball do the work and trying to build phases through constant collisions with opponents, and that is where he has perhaps been left behind this year.

Therefore, whilst Borthwick has so far resisted calls to leave him out of the starting XV, it did seem inevitable that, for tactical reasons as well as due to Farrell’s poor form, he would need to make a change sooner rather than later, and, whether it was because of the growing pressure from the fans or because of who they are facing this weekend, he has chosen now to make that switch, with Harlequins’ Marcus Smith coming in and Farrell named on the bench.

Smith is much more the type of fly-half that will suit the former Leicester Tigers head coach’s tactics, with him able to read the game well, find teammates around the field and get opponents onto the back foot, and his performance against Exeter Chiefs in the Big Game last weekend demonstrated those qualities.

As mentioned, England’s opponents this weekend might have swayed Borthwick’s mind, with France a well-organised side out of possession, and therefore there is a need to get the ball moving around the field accurately and to unlock those spaces in order to put them under constant pressure. Smith is clearly the right person for that job, and he will make those quick bursts that Farrell doesn’t seem to which will help England to get on the front foot much earlier and prevent France from closing them down.

When he has been asked about when exactly he made the decision to drop Farrell in favour of Smith, Borthwick has remained coy and not given a specific answer. However, many fans will suspect that, had Smith not played so well at the weekend, he might not have been named in the XV for Saturday’s game.

Borthwick has stated that it was down to him looking at each opposing side in isolation and deciding this week that Smith was the better option, and whilst that does ring true, surely the growing calls for him to start and the quality of his man-of-the-match performance against Exeter would also have helped to make his mind up.

Regardless, the decision to include Smith does indicate that England are starting to move forward at last, with many of Eddie Jones’ favourites already seemingly out of first-choice contention and a new generation of players being given chances to shine, and there is no doubt that the likes of Ollie Lawrence, Jack van Poortvliet and Ollie Chessum have all taken their chances as this year’s Six Nations has progressed.

The dropping of Farrell does feel like cutting the final thread that kept England attached to the Jones era, and perhaps now we will start to see them move towards the future at long last.