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Danny Cipriani wades into debate over Marcus Smith substitution

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

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Ex-England out-half Danny Cipriani had waded into the red-hot debate about the decision by Eddie Jones to remove on-song No10 Marcus Smith from the field for the closing 15 minutes of last Saturday’s defeat for England at Murrayfield. Jones’ team were leading 17-10 with Smith having scored all their points when it was decided to allow George Ford to close out the match. 

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However, the Murrayfield visitors lost their composure in a frantic closing period and it resulted in a 20-17 win for Scotland that generated much criticism of England. Heading the list of topics that came under the microscope was Jones’ taking Smith off.

Cipriani, the 34-year-old Bath out-half who won two of his 16 England Test caps under the Australian, has now had his say about the issue, describing in a Sportsmail column his shock that Smith had been hooked. His view was that England would have won had Smith been allowed to finish the match while he also described Jones’ selection policy as conservative. 

“As a No10, the last 20 minutes of a big game is when you earn your money. It’s a chance to really put your stamp on the game and that is why I was shocked when Eddie Jones brought off Marcus Smith early on Saturday,” wrote Cipriani. 

“If Smith had been given the chance to finish the match, I think England would have won. The whole complexion of the weekend would be very different and nobody would be here now questioning trust or belief.

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“Smith had scored all of England’s points and was having a growing influence on the team before he was replaced by George Ford. He was just starting to get a foothold in the match and find his flow. He had spent a good hour building towards that sweet spot.

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“On paper, bringing on an experienced No10 like Ford to close out the final 15 minutes makes sense. In theory, it seems like a move you don’t do if your playmaker is just starting to find his flow.

“Maybe it was pre-meditated or maybe it was an emotional decision because Smith had just missed a kick to touch. Whatever Jones’ reasoning, it didn’t seem like a decision that was in line with the way the game was going.

“Smith won’t throw his toys out of the pram about it but it’s hard not to question the timing of the decision. He wasn’t having the best game of his life but he was controlling things well. Looking at it now, it was a poor decision.”

Cipriani was last involved with England when called up to train in the wider 2019 World Cup preparation squad before he was cut, so he does have an insight into Jones’ methods as the coach. “Would I say Jones is a conservative coach? His selection policy has always been quite conservative. A lot of international coaches are conservative. It’s tough to let the shackles off and allow the team to play.

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“You need to let Smith run the team and give him the combinations he needs. There are a few things to iron out and they have got to do it quickly. Playing Elliot Daly at 13 was a big call and I don’t think it was the right decision. 

“Who do you bring in instead? People talk about Mark Atkinson playing the physical role of Andre Esterhuizen, but I think the best centre combination would be Henry Slade and Joe Marchant.”

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