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Monday, November 28, 2022

Marcus Smith proves he’s an all-weather player but England must take chances

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hen Marcus Smith first burst onto the scene, it was thought that he needed the perfect conditions and a nice, dry day to get the job done.

But actually, perhaps what we don’t talk about enough, is his tactical understanding of the game and against Scotland on Saturday he showed he can run a game in any weather.

That is something that he’s added to his game over the last year and maybe why Eddie Jones was reluctant to put him in until he did.

I had absolutely no doubt, even with the conditions at Murrayfield, that Marcus would be able to run a different kind of game and that’s exactly what happened.

It’s great that he has now shown that he can deliver that on the international stage. Marcus can play the expansive stuff, but if you want him to sit a bit deeper in the pocket and kick tactically, he can do that too.

If you think about Harlequins and the style they play, it’s very expansive. You might not immediately think tactical or game management – you just see free-flowing rugby.

But when it comes to Marcus, you can’t become an international fly-half if you can’t adapt and play different styles of games.

You can do it on the front-foot going forward, that’s easy, but when it’s off the back-foot or neutral, that’s when you need your fly-half to show their range of skills. Watching the Premiership week in, week out, we know that Marcus can do that, but now he’s doing it on the international stage too.

People will look at Marcus going off as the turning point in Saturday’s defeat, but when you’re bringing on George Ford, you aren’t losing too much. He’s been in brilliant form this season in the Premiership.

I think the turning point was more Luke Cowan-Dickie’s yellow card followed quickly by the lost lineout that Joe Marler unfortunately had to throw in. That, combined with England not taking chances early on, was more important than when Marcus left the field.

AFP via Getty Images

Ultimately, this defeat boiled down to England not taking enough chances. But fair play to Scotland – they looked very fluid in attack as well as resilient in defence to repel a lot of England’s efforts. Their work at the breakdown, in particular, was outstanding.

When England review the video, they’ll look at the possession they had early on and say: ‘We could have done more with the ball’.

In Test rugby, it is so crucial that you use possession efficiently and get points on the board when you have momentum, because very quickly and invariably the other team will go up the other end and score.

That momentum can swing very quickly and harshly. I look at the Ireland game and how clinical they were any time they got in a scoring position.

That’s the difference – especially when these top teams come up against each other. Chances are going to be few and far between, and the team that creates the most and takes them will be the winners. That’s the way it goes.

Scrum penalty debate is expected, but England don’t want to be in that position anyway

In the moment, I felt England should have won a penalty at the end. I don’t have in-depth scrum knowledge, but I look at the simpler stuff.

If one scrum looks fairly stable and is going forward, unless there is something fairly nuanced that you can’t quite make out, you would think that they have the advantage. But unless there is something clear and evident, sometimes referees want to keep the game flowing.

And either way, England don’t want to be in a position where you are relying on winning a penalty with the last play of the game to snatch a draw.

England must be wary about rushing Tuilagi back

I was at Harlequins versus Sale Sharks on Sunday, as Manu Tuilagi made his comeback from injury, and he looked good. He made some monster hits.

I would be wary of rushing him back in so soon ahead of Italy this weekend. He played 30 minutes against Quins and that’s his first game since November, so this next weekend would definitely be too soon for me.

Wales in a couple of weeks’ time? Maybe, because he is quality player and he does offer a multiple threats whereby he can both carry, pass and be used as a decoy. But I wouldn’t want to rush him back so soon after injury.

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