DANNY CIPRIANI: Eddie Jones was negative about me but I’m positive Marcus Smith will deliver… England’s new No 10 can thrive if Owen Farrell is willing to play co-pilot
- Marcus Smith has been incredible for Harlequins and can pull England’s strings
- He must have his voice heard with Owen Farrell such a strong presence too
- The difference between myself and Smith is that Eddie Jones wants him in there, in contrast to the South Africa tour back in 2018
- With Farrell outside him, Smith can focus on being creative and attacking
Marcus Smith and Owen Farrell can be a successful partnership for England. I think they can work well together because it looks like Owen is ready to be a captain who is the co-pilot in attack.
The big question this autumn is: will Farrell overshadow Smith? When they start as the 10 and 12, maybe this week against Tonga, or in the games against Australia and South Africa, it has to be clear that Marcus is running the show. His voice has to be heard and I’m confident it will be.
Some people don’t seem so sure, because of my experience in South Africa in 2018, when I started at fly-half in the last Test, with Farrell at 12. I haven’t thought about that tour for a long time. But I know in the build-up to this match there’s been a lot of talk about what happened back then — as if I was frozen out by Owen when we played together. That’s not how it felt to me.
There was a feeling in South Africa that Eddie Jones did not truly want me to be there
Marcus Smith can deliver for England and I’ve been following him for some time
It’s all in the past now, but I don’t think Eddie really wanted me in there, to be honest. That was the issue. Anything else would have stemmed from meetings they would have had together. Eddie was always so reluctant to pick me. Whenever my name was mentioned, he was always so negative and maybe that influenced how Owen behaved.
If Eddie had talked positively about what I was doing, it might have been different. I was picked in the Premiership Team of the Year three years in a row and I was named Player of the Year, but Eddie always brushed over any talk about me.
There was a big reaction after that last Test because when I hit a cross-kick to set up Jonny May’s try, Owen’s reaction wasn’t positive. But in the heat of the moment, I didn’t witness that, I only saw it on replays afterwards.
He came up to me when we got on the bus at the stadium to say Andy Goode had made a comment about it on social media and highlighted it. He just said he’d only reacted like that because he’d thought the kick had gone too long.
He was trying to make out it was all fine and I just took his word for it. That’s all I could do. When you look at it, it does look a bit — well, put it this way, I wouldn’t do that to another player. But I don’t think he openly went into that situation trying to be disruptive towards me.
He might have preferred to play with George Ford but it wasn’t a debilitating situation. I felt like I was able to go and perform. England had lost six games in a row and I still got the job done that day. I started one game and we won, but I never played again.
This kick set up a match-winning try and there were replays of a negative reaction from Owen Farrell afterwards that he later explained was because he thought it went long
I think Owen is so ‘in the moment’ when he is playing and he is highly competitive — even with his own team-mates, it would seem. People have talked about his body language towards me during the game, but I didn’t sense any of that. I felt that we operated quite smoothly as a unit that day.
The conditions were shocking which meant we would have kicked off nine (scrum-half) a lot. I was so focused on kick-chase and that sort of stuff that I didn’t really notice or feel any tension. Maybe the way Owen’s personality is, people want to label him as someone who would be like that, but the sounds coming out of camp now seem to show that he has moved on and evolved. You’d like to think that he’s a different person a few years later.
So that was my experience — but the difference for Marcus Smith is that Eddie really wants him to be there and Owen is ready to help and support him. He will be vocal and protect Marcus in defence but when it comes to attack, let’s listen to what Marcus has to say and how he reads the game because he is a step ahead of everyone else.
My first awareness of Marcus was when I was training with England and he came along to watch. We were training at Brighton College and he was a pupil there at the time. He met us and had some photos with a few of us. I’ve followed his career since then.
Owen Farrell must be willing to play the co-pilot and let Smith take the reigns in attack
I’ve been speaking to him over the last couple of years just to catch up with him after games and see how he’s going.
I’ve tried to share some ideas with him and I’ve been a keen admirer of his. He’s got so much talent and he has a great mentor in Nick Evans at Harlequins.
Marcus plays with his head up and attacks the space. He’s not afraid to make the big play but he’s also got a great decision- making brain. He knows how to get Quins on the front foot. He’s instinctive but also has a lot of nous and composure.
In the last few years, when the pressure has been on, he has performed in the big games.
He has the ability to go to the line and threaten defences. He has a great running game and a goose-step which he uses to find space. He can also step laterally. When you put runners around him it’s so dangerous because he can be in front of one defender but suddenly skip to the next and create an overlap or an underlap, with runners coming back on the inside.
Smith and Farrell could prove to be a fruitful combination and it will be interesting to see them
He’s got a lot of ‘wow’ factor but over the last couple of years he’s been building his game so that he’s now dominating and leading. Quins have built an attack around Marcus and Danny Care.
He’s 22 and the timing is right for him to establish himself in the England set-up, with Owen there to help him.
I like the principle of having playmakers at 10 and 12 and I think Owen has played a lot of his best rugby for England at No 12. If you go back over the years, using that system is often when England have been at their most successful as an attacking unit.
It is effective when they use big forwards across the pitch as runners, then use the extra ball player to spread the ball wide.
The system will allow Marcus to focus on being himself and that means offering a running threat. He doesn’t have to worry about taking the ball into contact, which he does so often.
Smith can take the ball to the line and uses his goose step to create space and opportunities
With Owen there to spread the ball in the next phase, it will allow him to get back on his feet and back into the game. Owen will act as a second pair of eyes and ears and he will certainly demand the ball if the chance is on to get it out wide. Marcus can really focus on attacking the line and ball-playing. Owen can bring his outside backs into the game, because he’s such a good passer.
This is a system that can work. If England get the right balance between the two playmakers, it will get the best out of both of them in the 10 and 12 jerseys.
I believe that can happen and it could prove to be an exciting combination.
Danny Cipriani will be writing for Sportsmail throughout the autumn internationals.
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