SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: If Owen Farrell was available, I would have dropped Marcus Smith! It’s a huge moment for him and I would utilise him later on to cause the Boks serious damage – but now we will get a full-scale examination of his credentials
- This is a huge moment for Marcus Smith in what will be a new level for him
- Nothing he has experienced will have prepared him for a test like the Springboks
- Smith is a character who rises to the occasion against demanding opposition
- Having said that, had Owen Farrell been available, I wouldn’t have started Smith
- I would have started Owen, with Smith coming on later to cause serious damage
It almost goes without saying this is a huge moment for Marcus Smith, a new level altogether.
Nothing he has experienced at club level or even in his few England outings will compare with what he faces on Saturday. Last week’s game against Australia will feel like a walk in the park by comparison but I am really excited for him.
Everything I’ve seen from Smith leads me to believe he is a character who rises to the occasion against demanding opposition. He is at his best when his team need him most.
I would have started Owen Farrell (right) over Marcus Smith (left) for England’s clash with Boks
Farrell will take no part in the clash at Twickenham after he picked up an ankle injury last week
Having said that, had Owen Farrell been available, I wouldn’t have started Smith.
Farrell, Manu Tuilagi and Henry Slade are the midfielders the Boks would not have wanted to see. I’ve said all along, it’s ‘either or’ for the No10 shirt and for this game, I would have started Owen, with Smith coming on later in the game to cause serious damage.
However, that option is not available so we will get a full-scale examination of his credentials, which is brilliant for all involved.
South Africa will target him and rightly so — I would! It comes with the territory. Ask Jonny Wilkinson, Ronan O’Gara or Johnny Sexton. Every big ball-carrier will run down the 10 channel and not the 12.
Wherever Smith is standing, that is where the Boks will go. If they get to him, they’ll hit extra-hard and try to get him on the floor. That’s where they want to see him!
In my time with England, I can only remember targeting a fly-half once and that was in our 2003 World Cup semi-final against France. Frederic Michalak was a stellar talent but we knew he could collapse under pressure and we vowed to put him on the floor for the full 80 minutes.
Last week’s game against Australia will feel like a walk in the park by comparison to Saturday
The plan worked splendidly, his game wilted and he was replaced with 30 minutes to go. He walked off as if he had been in the ring with Mike Tyson. Game over.
The downside of such an approach is you can get carried away and take that mindset into all areas of the game, as we saw in 2002 when Corne Krige’s South Africa team started targeting Wilkinson in an illegal way. The whole team lost the plot in one of the most disgraceful displays you will see on a rugby pitch.
They also lost the game 53-3. We lapped it up and administered the biggest walloping of their rugby lives. It can backfire badly.
I remember just staring at the scoreboard — South Africa got what they deserved!
Smith will know what’s coming his way and can use it to his advantage. I would, however, offer one piece of advice.
The only time I ever had to have words with Wilkinson was when he unnecessarily joined attacking rucks, when his job was to be available to his scrum-half to get the next move going.
The only time I ever had to have words with Jonny Wilkinson (left) was when he unnecessarily joined attacking rucks, when his job was to be available to his scrum-half
Smith is a gutsy lad, he fears nobody, and the modern trend is for backs to be all-round players who can jackal, clear out and latch on with the best of them.
But last week I saw him getting involved when he would have served his team better by making himself available.
I take it as read that when South Africa are attacking from the set-piece, the England back row — three of the biggest legal hitters in world rugby — will be working hard to stop the South Africa runners from reaching Smith.
The other big test for Smith will be his goal-kicking. He strikes me as a brilliant, high-percentage goal-kicker who relishes the challenge — but this is a new level.
One of Farrell’s under-rated talents is to be right in the thick of the physical action throughout the game — only to then slow the heart rate and go through his meticulous goal-kicking routine. Very rarely has he misfired in 100 Tests for England and the Lions.
We will get a full-scale examination of Smith’s credentials, which is brilliant for all involved
Elsewhere, Eddie Jones’ team is pretty much as expected, bar the introduction of converted centre Joe Marchant on the wing.
I don’t understand the reluctance to go with Adam Radwan but it’s Eddie’s call and it will prove to be a masterstroke or a bad mistake.
I would probably have started with Joe Marler but we don’t know what the medics are saying after his isolation following a positive Covid test.
Rugby divided on Erasmus controversy
Rugby seems deeply divided over the Rassie Erasmus ban but in many ways, it was a very avoidable controversy.
Erasmus is a World Cup-winning coach whose victory in Japan was a triumph. This summer, under huge pressure and very much out of character, he got a couple of things badly wrong.
It happens in elite sport. Always has, always will. The release of his ‘video nasty’ on referee Nic Berry’s performance in the first Lions Test and the implied threat to Berry and the two officials who had to officiate the subsequent Tests was simply not on.
There were also many who failed to appreciate that his marching on to the pitch throughout the series as a waterboy often occurred when those officials were making big TMO decisions.
South Africa director of rugby Rassie Erasmus has been banned from all rugby for two months
If he was a player, he would have received a red card, but this is where rugby lets itself down.
It should have been dealt with quickly. Disciplinary hearing, short ban, possibly a fine and on with the series and the rugby.
What you don’t do is make a cause celebre of it and drag it out for four months during which the fires are stoked. In future, I want to see cast-iron regulations spelling out what coaches and directors of rugby can say or do.
And if a coach or director of rugby transgresses, they would be up before the beak two days later, just like a player would.
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