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‘Absolutely, why wouldn’t you back Fin Smith at 21?’

By Liam Heagney
Northampton's Fin Smith (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Sam Vesty has lauded the role played by young out-half Fin Smith in helping to get Northampton to the top of the Gallagher Premiership. Last weekend’s comeback win over Sale, which left the Saints sitting in a rare first place, was their fourth league success on the bounce and their seventh in 10 outings ahead of next Saturday’s trip to the second place Exeter.

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Potential England pick Smith has been at the heart of this consistency, starting all nine Premiership games so far, and having trained with Steve Borthwick’s England during pre-season ahead of their Rugby World Cup bronze medal finish in France, there is speculation that the uncapped 21-year-old could now get on the field in the upcoming Guinness Six Nations.

With World Cup skipper Owen Farrell out of the running due to his Test rugby sabbatical, the initial expectation was that the No10 shirt would be a straight fight between Marcus Smith and George Ford but the recent form of Northampton’s Smith has since caught the eye.

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England boss Borthwick enjoys a kick-heavy approach and Smith’s 2,091 kicked-metres tally in the Premiership is only marginally less than Ford, who is on 2,199.

Seventy-three of those kicks have been in play with Northampton retaining 11, while the youngster isn’t shy on the other side of the ball as he has so far been credited with 100 tackles – the ninth-highest by any player in the league.

Smith was already diligently making his way in the Premiership as a teenager at Worcester before their financial collapse resulted in him switching to Franklin’s Gardens in October 2022. The exit since then of Dan Biggar to Toulon only accelerated the fast-track learning that now potentially has him on the cusp of an England call.

Smith’s youthfulness was never an issue with Vesty when it came to quickly making him Northampton’s first-choice No10. “Absolutely, why wouldn’t you back Fin Smith at 21? He is mature, he has got his head screwed on,” reckoned the head coach during his virtual media briefing ahead of next weekend’s trip to Sandy Park.

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“He is a good rugby player and ultimately that is what matters. I don’t really care how old someone is.

“If they are going to go and do a good job and if they have got potential, we will back them and we have shown we have got a history of doing that and we are reaping the benefits of that. We trust our youngsters. We work hard to get them there but then when they are there we let them fly.”

What is Smith like as the Saints out-half? “He is a sponge really and wants to be better; he wants to be better every day. That is the guy who walked through the door and he has applied himself, he has learned,” continued Vesty.

“He has had knockbacks, he has had good things and how quickly he has achieved what he has by playing as well as he has as consistently as he has done is testament to him as a human being. He has got a smart head on his shoulders.”

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Giving youth its fling was originally the Northampton policy under Chris Boyd, an approach continued this last season-and-a-half by current director of rugby Phil Dowson with Vesty as head coach.

“Chris was very good at putting younger guys in… if they can do it in training, trust them, back them. It’s also a little bit if you can’t afford to go to the market and buy the biggest, most talented guys out there you have to work hard on nurturing your young guys and I see that as a real positive and certainly a joy in what I do.”

So influential has Smith become that he has played the full 80 minutes in nine of his 11 league and cup appearances this season, a dependency also now reflected in England World Cup bolter Alex Mitchell lasting the full duration in four of his club’s last five matches.

“They are playing really well and are a testament to being fit, robust as well as playing well. They are just playing well, so we just try and keep them on the pitch as much as possible.”

A curiosity about Northampton occupying pole position with eight rounds of matches left in the Premiership’s regular season is that they are in first place despite their tally of 239 points for being just seventh best in the league while their 31 tries is only joint-sixth best.

“I’d rather win games than score lots of points,” reckoned Vesty. “We have got lots more in us, I think we know we have.”

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