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How Jones rated the performance of England match-winner Smith

By Liam Heagney

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Eddie Jones has reflected on the performance of England match-winner Marcus Smith, the rookie Test level out-half who rounded off the biggest international match of his fledgling career by slotting the 80th-minute penalty that defeated the Springboks 27-26 at Twickenham. With Will Stuart sin-binned and Frans Steyn having pushed South Africa into a 72nd minute lead with a penalty, England looked set for defeat. 

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However, momentum dramatically swung back England’s way when Smith hoisted a kick towards the halfway line four minutes later which resulted in Springboks skipper Siya Kolisi tackling Joe Marchant in the air and getting yellow-carded, a decision that left the home side ultimately finishing the game a man up after Stuart eventually re-entered the fray 

Things still didn’t go smoothly for England from here as two lineouts were lost but they continued to fight tooth and nail and were joyously rewarded with a penalty when Steyn illegally drove into Smith on the ground in a central position with the hosts already playing a penalty advantage from a ruck further across to the left of the posts. 

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This award allowed Smith to kick the winning points and he also had the thrill of then ending the match when booting the ball from an infringement on Freddie Steward at the restart into touch to guarantee the victory. It was Smith’s fifth England appearance after Jones moved away from using George Ford following last March’s dispiriting Six Nations loss to Ireland in Dublin.

How did the 22-year-old Smith fare from the perspective of his all-seeing coach? “He is a work in progress and each game he is going to get a little bit better,” enthused Jones when the dust settled on a rip-roaring November classic where England outscored South Africa by three tries to one but suffered on the back of a hefty penalty count of 18, nine of which led to kicks at the posts with seven going over for 21 points. 

“I thought he [Smith] did a great job. He is going to be better, he will be better in the Six Nations. I know he will be better in the Six Nations because he has got a great desire to want to work and be a better player.” Jones, though, didn’t back himself into a corner by stating that Smith, who was five from five off the kicking tee, is definitely his first-choice from now through to the 2023 World Cup in France. 

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“Well, you can’t make those predictions. We had a captain and vice-captain that we don’t have anymore because they are injured or out with Covid [Owen Farrell and Ellis Genge]. Marcus is improving as a player and continuing to improve and as long as he continues to keep improving he is going to have a good role in this team.”

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