The England report card on Marcus Smith at 15
Marcus Smith could be retained at full-back as England progress deeper into the World Cup after excelling in his first start in the position against Chile.
Smith overcame an edgy opening to help orchestrate an 11-try rout at Stade Pierre-Mauroy, offering the team a new dimension with the ball in hand, which he underscored with a personal two-try haul – albeit against opponents ranked 22 in the world.
England must now decide whether to give him another chance to adapt to 15 in their final group match against Samoa on October 7 or revert to the ultra-dependable Freddie Steward, their first choice in the position for over two years.
Richard Wigglesworth has been a central figure in Smith’s transition from fly-half and the attack coach has seen enough to know the 24-year-old is ready for the bigger tests that lie ahead.
“Marcus has given us food for thought at full-back throughout pre-season because that’s the standard he operates at,” Wigglesworth said.
“It was a bigger talking point than we felt it was because we just see a great rugby player there. We were really impressed by him against Chile.
“We all thought it was coming before the game and were really confident that he was going to produce that sort of performance. He looked great, didn’t he?
“He’s definitely a viable option (to start) because he’s a top, top international, so when you have that level of ability like he’s got, executing the way he is, then he’s always a viable option.”
Whether Smith faces Samoa, reprises the bench role that worked well over the four Tests before Chile were overwhelmed or England perform a positional sleight of hand by squeezing him and Steward into the same back line, one of the game’s most exciting talents has a role to play at the World Cup.
With Owen Farrell and George Ford blocking the path at 10, the Harlequins magician has adjusted quickly after defence coach Kevin Sinfield first raised the prospect of him switching positions during the summer.
“Marcus is a fly-half who can play full-back and what’s so impressive about him is that he has just ripped into that role,” Wigglesworth said.
“He gets training time at both, but he’s ripped into this like, ‘I want to get a shot, I want to have an impact at a World Cup’. And what an attitude for someone to have.
“There hasn’t been a hint of, ‘Oh, this isn’t quite my preferred position or the one that I’ve played and played very successfully for my whole career’.
“He’s not done that, he has just gone, ‘Let me make an impact on this team, on the players around me’. And he has been first class.”
England, who are on the brink of reaching the quarter-finals, have resolved to let Smith forge his own identity in the role.
“We’ve let Marcus do it the Marcus way because, from the first moment he has done it, he has looked pretty comfortable there,” Wigglesworth said.
“He’s done extra high-ball work and understanding the back-field roles in that, and he’s really grabbed that.
“He’s a smart, smart rugby player, so he retains that information and then commands other people around him straight away.
“He’s grabbed it himself and we want Marcus Smith to look like Marcus Smith at full-back, no one else.”