Former England rugby union manager and Rugby World Cup-winning coach Sir Clive Woodward has said that ditching Owen Farrell for Marcus Smith is a ‘good call’ in his latest column in the Daily Mail.
The debate over who should start for England at fly-half has been a long-standing one, with Farrell regarded as one of the best players in the world in his position. However, with the emergence of Marcus Smith, who has been in excellent form for Harlequins this season, the debate has intensified.
The 22-year-old Smith played a leading role in Harlequins’ Premiership final win over Exeter Chiefs earlier in June, scoring 18 points to help his side lift the trophy.
Many believe that Smith’s performances for Harlequins make him the favourite to start for England when they begin their autumn international campaign later this year.
Woodward, who guided England to World Cup success in 2003, believes that selecting Smith ahead of Farrell would be a ‘good call’ for England.
“I think Smith is a special player – his performance for Harlequins in the Premiership final was exceptional,” Woodward wrote in the Daily Mail.
“He has done enough to merit a start for England, and if he does get the nod, it would be a good call.”
Farrell has been the undisputed first-choice fly-half for England for several years, and has developed a reputation as a tenacious and passionate leader on the field.
However, his form has been somewhat inconsistent in recent months, and he endured a difficult Six Nations campaign earlier this year, with England finishing in fifth place.
Woodward has been critical of Farrell’s performances during this period, and believes that Smith’s emergence presents England with an opportunity to freshen up their play.
“Farrell has been a fantastic player for England, but his form has dipped over the last few months,” Woodward continued.
“Smith is a completely different kind of fly-half – he is more creative, and has the ability to unlock defences with his speed and agility.”
Woodward went on to praise Smith’s ability to control a game, and described him as a ‘natural leader’.
“He has a great rugby brain, and always seems to make the right decisions on the field,” Woodward said.
“His ability to keep calm under pressure is impressive, and he has demonstrated that he can lead a team at the highest level.”
Despite his praise for Smith, Woodward remained cautious about placing too much pressure on the young fly-half, and urged England fans to be patient with his development.
“It’s important not to get carried away with Smith’s performances – he is still a young player, and there will be tough challenges ahead,” Woodward said.
“But I believe he has the potential to be a world-class fly-half, and I would love to see him given a chance to prove himself at international level.”
The selection of Smith ahead of Farrell would represent a bold move from England head coach Eddie Jones, but it could also be seen as a necessary one.
With the Rugby World Cup just over a year away, Jones will be keen to identify his strongest team as soon as possible, and if Smith can replicate his club form at the international level, then he could be the missing piece to the puzzle.
For now, the debate over who should start at fly-half for England will continue, but with the emergence of Smith, it looks as though Jones has some big decisions to make over the coming months.