Highlights on Off The Ball

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Highlights on Off The Ball


"All positive feeling in English rugby is wrapped around Marcus Smith" - Stuart Barnes

Marcus Smith is the only positivity that English rugby has right now, according to Stuart Barnes.

Joe Molloy was joined by Stuart Barnes on Wednesday Night Rugby to discuss England and Marcus Smith.

Marcus Smith is England's golden boy. The young out-half is everything a rugby fan could want.

He's talented, dynamic and plays a fearless brand of rugby. Ireland and Andy Farrell have to shut Smith down this weekend, but that's easier said than done. Especially since England as a team are typically difficult to stop in Twickenham. But the positive for Ireland is that Smith is largely the only threat England offer.

Eddie Jones' team is in transition. They have limped through this Six Nations tournament so far. Ireland travel to England as considerable favourites. Despite losing to France and then following it up with a sloppy game against Italy, Ireland are the form team based on the past six months of rugby.

Farrell has difficult decisions to make on his team, but they are all choices between good, in-form players. Whereas Jones is trying to figure out his best lineup from less attractive options.

If Ireland match the power of the English pack without Andrew Porter and Ronan Kelleher, it should be a relatively comfortable win for them. If they don't, they still have enough talent to win the game on the back foot. That is in large part because of England's lack of identity.

"England are disjointed, they'll understand that," Barnes said.

"They've won two games but it's not with performances that breeds confidence. I think it's very important start. Twickenham is worth points to England, maybe seven or 10, I don't know how you measure these things, but it's worth a few to England. So if they get off to a good start, if they get a try early on, you can sort of say to yourself you're 12-0 up in your heads.

"Flip side, if Ireland start well, this is a Twickenham crowd that hasn't been as vocal as some in the past."

England may start 11 different players from this reverse fixture 12 months ago. That's a huge turnover in a short period of time. The Vunipolas and Owen Farrell are absent. Without them, England are missing the experienced foundation of their success from recent seasons. Since other players haven't stepped up, the pressure has fallen onto Marcus Smith.

The 23-year-old Harlequins out-half is very talented. He can make or break a game on his own. He has mammoth potential and Jones is hoping he'll develop into the next great English out-half.

But he's still in the early stages of his development. Going to the Lions, playing against South Africa for England and winning the Premiership have accelerated his progress somewhat. But not to the point that he can rival Jonathan Sexton on a less-talented team.

"All positive feeling in English rugby is wrapped around Marcus Smith. Every game Smith gets man of the match, ITV, BBC it doesn't matter. If he ran out on the pitch, he gets man of the match. Now I happen to think he's a fine player. He's very much so the positive hub of everything English at the moment.

"Even the Maro Itoje chants have gone quiet, so I don't think it will take a lot to shift the balance of psychological pressure right onto England if Ireland start as they did against Wales."

England's players aren't expecting to lose. That's not the mindset of international rugby players who have achieved what they have achieved. But the exterior expectation is definitely not what it would normally be. The players will be desperate to win and avoid finishing fifth and that will create some pressure if they fall behind.

On the other hand, Ireland's players are no longer playing for a Grand Slam. They will know if the Championship is open again because France play Wales on Friday night. If France beat Wales, the tournament will likely be decided.

Still, Ireland should beat England in Twickenham. That's not a statement you can say very often. As such, the players need to live up to those expectations.

Jonathan Sexton vs. Marcus Smith - Brian O'Driscoll


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Andy Farrell England Rugby Ireland Rugby Marcus Smith