England’s defeat of Argentina at the Rugby World Cup was notable for two reasons: they won the game despite suffering a red card after less than three minutes and they won despite the absence of their talismanic captain, Owen Farrell.
As a result, many fans and pundits alike are now questioning Farrell’s place in the team. He may have more than 100 caps for England and is still only 31 years of age. But, could his time as England’s first choice fly half be coming to a close, and could Marcus Smith be the man to replace him?
Farrell’s Ban and Rugby World Cup Role
Prior to the start of the Rugby World Cup, Owen Farrell was sent off in a warm-up match against Wales for an illegal tackle. After significant legal wrangling and appeals, he was ultimately banned for four matches. Two of these covered England’s remaining warm-up matches, but he has also been ineligible for selection in his country’s first two World Cup games (against Argentina and Japan).
He will be free to play again from 23rd September, when England take on Chile in their third pool-stage game.
Prior to the start of the tournament, most believed Farrell would simply retake his place at 10. However, George Ford’s epic kicking performance against Argentina has made some pundits believe he will keep his spot and Farrell will come off the bench. Others believe that Marcus Smith should take the 10 jersey or start at fullback as part of his quest for minutes.
However, whatever strategy England Head Coach Steve Borthwick chooses will likely only be a sticking plaster to get through the tournament. The real battle for the future of English rugby will begin at the start of the next Rugby World Cup cycle, when the Six Nations campaign starts in February 2024.
Looking to the 2024 Six Nations and Beyond
When England start their next Six Nations campaign away in Rome at the Stadio Olimpico, George Ford will be 31 and Owen Farrell will be 32. Although both could still feature at the 2027 Rugby World Cup, their best days will undoubtedly be behind them.
For this reason, many analysts believe that the number 10 jersey should be handed to the ever impressive Marcus Smith, who was once the captain of Brighton College’s First XI. In fact, it was while he was still at the school that he was spotted by Eddie Jones. When England once came for a training camp in Brighton, he even trained alongside George Ford.
Only 24 years of age, Smith has already amassed more than 20 caps for his country. He was also called up to the British and Irish Lions squad in 2021 and finished the 2022 campaign as the tournament’s top point-scorer.
Is Marcus Smith England’s Future?
On present form, it’s hard to argue that this is the case. After all, Smith vision on the field, kicking accuracy and passing range are all elite. However, both Ford and Farrell both still have roles to play for their country over the coming years and will undoubtedly still be key squad members throughout 2024 at least.
As a result, Smith may have to prove his worth off the bench throughout the 2023 Rugby World Cup. If he puts in several good performances, his talents may become too good to ignore.