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'It's the right time': Ex-England skipper makes Marcus Smith plea

By Liam Heagney

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Ex-England skipper Chris Robshaw believes next November’s Twickenham matches versus the world champion Springboks and the resurgent Wallabies is the right time to expose Marcus Smith and see if he does really have what it takes to own the No10 shirt at Test level. The 22-year-old stepped on the career accelerator in recent months, guiding Harlequins to Premiership glory before making an England Test debut and then touring with the Lions. 

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However, those England appearances came against the USA and Canada and Robshaw, the 2015 World Cup captain and the veteran 66 Test caps, has told RugbyPass that this emergence now needs to be backed up by inclusion for the main matches that Eddie Jones’ team will play this November. 

England will play Tonga, Australia and South Africa at Twickenham on successive Saturdays, starting on November 6, and the first steps towards those games will be taken next Tuesday when Jones announces his squad for a mini training camp that will commence on September 26.

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It’s an announcement with a level of intrigue. England front-line players endured a miserable fifth-place Six Nations finish in March and with some touring with the Lions in July and others rested, Jones blooded 16 new caps – including Smith – during the two-game summer series. The question now is how many of those newcomers did enough to merit a recall with everyone available for selection just two years out from the start of the 2023 World Cup in France. 

Robshaw knows some changing of the guard will happen in the run-up to the finals. He was a victim in the previous World Cup cycle, playing his last Test in 2018 and then losing out to younger bucks in the guise of Tom Curry and Sam Underhill. What direction Jones will now go in terms of mixing his old guard with his newcomers will be closely watched. 

“I have been in that boat,” said Robshaw to RugbyPass. “Eddie doesn’t really bow to the pressure but there is a lot of talk about getting players in and changing players. I don’t think there will be any massive surprises but there will definitely be some fresh faces. Whether it’s a guy like a Max Malins who has played a couple of times. Does he get a bit more of a run because he has been superb? Him going back to Saracens now it will be interesting to see how he develops because the free-flowing, running rugby at Bristol suited him down to the ground. It might give him a different dimension. 

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“There is also the likes of Marcus Smith, maybe Alex Dombrandt, Ben Earl, unfortunately no Jack Willis for a while – yeah, I definitely think there will be changes. In terms of what positions I am not sure. Will they be just for the Tonga game or will he trust them to go against the world champions and Australia who are resurgent about where they are at their level? It is one thing playing American and Canada in a summer tour, another to play the most ferocious team in world rugby.”

The name of Smith and how he progresses with Jones’ England is sure to garner the most attention, though, given the swashbuckling way he lit up the rugby world on successive Saturdays during June and July. Is he the England long-term No10? “Until he gets the opportunity we will never know,” said Robshaw about a position where George Ford has been Jones’ regular pick except when he moves skipper Owen Farrell in from inside centre.    

“I used to have this conversation with Dean Richards back in the day (at Harlequins). I would have played but in the big games, he would have always have played the senior guys. He was like, ‘We’re going for experience this week’ and I’d be like, ‘Well, how do I get that experience if I never play?’ It was always quite a tough one. 

“Kevin Sinfield, I touch base with him. He has gone to Leicester now so it will be interesting to see how he develops there. He is a great, great man with a great mentality and one of his big sayings was, ‘Don’t dip your toe in, jump in fully, jump in with both hands. Yes, you might get it wrong every now and then but I guarantee you if you prepare well, if you are mentally in the right place, you will come out on top’. Guys like Marcus and numerous others, I think it is the right time for them.”

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'It's the right time': Ex-England skipper makes Marcus Smith plea

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