Chris Jones of the BBC joined Wednesday Night Rugby to discuss England and Marcus Smith.
England are not in a good place.
Eddie Jones' side slumped through the Six Nations, scraped past the line in their summer tour and have now endured a disappointing Autumn Nations Series. Salvaging a last-second draw against 14-man New Zealand and then kicking the ball out to settle for said draw was considered a good result for Jones.
In the past, that would have been a missed opportunity.
Jones expects his England side to be World Cup contenders. And while there is no evidence to support that possibility becoming a reality, the previous World Cup cycle is in Jones' favour. England were a bad team up until the final 12 months before the last World Cup.
They shocked Ireland in Dublin before going onto reach the World Cup Final, most notably demolishing New Zealand in the semi-final.
And while there are no signs of that resurgence coming, if it does happen then Marcus Smith will be central to any success. Chris Jones explained where Smith is in his development as England's 10.
"Marcus Smith is almost synonymous with this confusion around the England team," Jones said.
"Because he's had some lovely bits in his 18 months of test rugby. Owen Farrell was injured in that South Africa game last year and Smith ran the show. He kicked the winning goal. And looked that the man had born. In the Six Nations, I don't think he particularly had it all his own way."
Farrell was injured during the Six Nations. Smith played with some outstanding individual players, but as Smith notes, they were also unbalanced center partnerships. England didn't set up platforms for Smith with ball-carriers. That limited the space he played in.
He had similar challenges in Australia.
"He struggled a lot to put his stamp on the game. But then scores a breakaway try in Sydney to win the series. Similar to this Autumn, struggled really to put his stamp on the game, and then he makes a potentially match-saving break against New Zealand. That leads to the Barrett yellow. The floodgates start to open.
"Is Marcus Smith a test-quality out-half? Of course. Does he have a huge amount of potential? Of course. How does the team fit around him? And how does he fit into the team? That is the question a lot of England fans are asking.
"Is Smith-Farrell long-term or is Jones just working on that as an option he can use in 2023?"
Ireland have their own difficult dynamic at out-half. England's is arguably worse, but with a higher upside. Ireland need a backup in case Sexton isn't available, but England need their 10 and 12 to figure out how to get the most out of each other.
If they do that, they can combine the creativity of Smith with the proven consistency of Farrell. If Manu Tualagi is healthy at 13, suddenly there's lots of reasons to fear England.
That will give Ireland a real test in the Six Nations, something they should only benefit from ahead of the World Cup.
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