Marcus Smith has been heralded as the next great prospect in English rugby after making a decisive impact in the early stages of his career at the highest level. The 22-year-old has starred for Harlequins in the Premiership over the last four seasons, displaying a high level of skill with both ball in hand and with his boot. Smith boasts the dynamic play at fly-half that England have been sorely lacking in their bid to match the slick approach of New Zealand in the opposition 22.
He has already ousted England veteran George Ford from the line-up and has even threatened to make skipper Owen Farrell dispensable, opening up options for Eddie Jones to use at centre. England are in the process of rebuilding their side after a disappointing 2021 Six Nations campaign. After a period of self-reflection, Jones has turned over a large portion of his squad, who are now backed in the rugby union betting odds at 9/4 to win the Six Nations in 2022.
Smith will undoubtedly play a huge role if healthy and if he can maintain the high standard of his play at international level. Farrell and Ford have been a no-frills combination at fly-half for almost a decade. They have been reliable and steady, especially under Jones, if lacking in flair at times. The duo were good enough to be the foundation of the Red Rose side that reached the 2019 World Cup Final, only to be defeated by South Africa. That defeat more than most perhaps swayed the decision of Jones to move on from Ford, and to be wary of Farrell’s future, considering the latter was far from his best in the 2021 season and was even overlooked for a starting berth in the Lions’ ranks.
It was evident in England’s defeat to the Springboks that they were required a special element to unlock a quality defence. South Africa are arguably the most resilient team in the world and have frustrated the best back play from New Zealand on occasions. However, England were also denied by Scotland, Wales and Ireland in the 2021 Six Nations, highlighting predictability in their approach on the field. There are a lot of factors involved, including the coaching style of Jones, but their defeat at the hands of Scotland was reminiscent of their struggles to break down South Africa.
England do have quality in the backfield. Jonny May, Anthony Watson and Elliot Daly all have supreme talent on their day, but perhaps failed to live up to their potential, especially the latter. Daly has never quite been able to deliver his Premiership form to the international stage, although it has not helped his cause that he has been shunted around the team in several positions.
He has been one of the casualties of Jones’ overhaul of the side amid the influx of players in the wing back and full-back positions. Jones has insisted that the door is not closed on the veteran players that have been left out of his most recent squads. But there is a signal of a new era for the Red Rose as the head coach seeks to build a second strong unit that can achieve the ultimate goal of winning the World Cup in 2023.