As you will have gathered over the years, one of my mantras is that selection is the most difficult but important aspect of international coaching.
It eclipses everything else. Ultimately a coach stands or falls upon selections.
So with that in mind we now have the Marcus Smith or Owen Farrell dilemma for England coming to a head.
We have the Marcus Smith (right) or Owen Farrell (left) dilemma for England coming to a head
I’ve been beating the Smith drum for a long time and would have had him starting for England games long before this autumn.
They have wasted the past two years, learning little.
He’s an exceptional, potentially once-in-a-generation talent capable of transforming the way England attack and bringing all of their enormous firepower to bear. In that respect he reminds me of Jason Robinson.
He can be a game-changer for England, just as Jason’s incredible attacking threat added so much when he came over from rugby league, winning 51 caps between 2001 and 2007.
I’ve been beating the Smith drum for a long time, England have wasted the past two years
As a coach you say a prayer of thanks when such a talent comes along, they can lift the mood and ambition of an entire squad. Smith has that ability.
England’s opponents will be hoping they don’t find a way of fully tapping into his talent and energy.
However, as we saw up at Sale last Friday, Smith can be closed down by opponents who are on the front foot and dominating up front. Can England give Smith the platform? They can’t just pick him to start and hand all of the responsibility to him.
Can the other players buy into the counter-attacking, quick ruck ball, off-the-cuff mentality that he loves and that has made Harlequins successful and irresistible to watch?
If you give Smith his head, England must play in a different way than during the past two years. It’s not a revolution but an evolution born of necessity.
He is capable of transforming the way England attack and reminds me of Jason Robinson
England were very poor last autumn and finished fifth in the Six Nations with just two wins. They have to change.
Appreciating the challenge that Smith is now bringing, and perhaps coming out of a lull post-2019 World Cup, Owen Farrell is responding like the champion he is and I sense a big season ahead for the Saracens skipper.
He has got the bit between his teeth and somebody’s going to pay. On Sunday it was Bath.
I’ve been a huge Farrell supporter and still am, but as a No 10, not at 12. At his best he is a world-class 10 as opposed to a decent 12. There’s a big difference at elite level and deep down he wants No 10 on his back .
So now it is crunch time for head coach Eddie Jones. It’s either Smith or Farrell at 10.
If Smith gets the nod, Farrell must go on the bench. England need a fit Manu Tuilagi — or someone with his qualities — playing 12. England must find a 10-12-13 combination that is going to frighten the world.
So now it is crunch time for head coach Eddie Jones. It’s either Smith or Farrell at 10
I don’t think Smith and Farrell together will worry those teams who have kicked on since Japan 2019. Smith (or Farrell) at 10, Manu at 12 and Henry Slade at 13 is as good as anything out there — all playing in their best positions.
Playing George Ford and Farrell together hasn’t worked, including in the World Cup final, and Eddie will be making the same mistake if he opts for a Smith/Farrell combination. Give the three autumn games to Smith and then bring back Farrell at 10 in the Six Nations if Smith has not lived up to his potential.
Running alongside this key selection — the toughest of Eddie’s career I would suggest — is the other big dilemma. Scrum-half. Which No 9 would best give Smith his freedom, or would best complement Farrell?
Only after choosing his 10, Eddie can address that issue. There is a logjam of talent building up behind Ben Youngs. There is nothing to choose between the veteran Youngs, Raffi Quirke and Harry Randall, although I am mystified by the continued exile of Dan Robson.
England need a fit Manu Tuilagi — or someone with his qualities — playing as inside centre
There is another very tight call at full back where Freddie Steward has size, presence and great assurance under the high ball while Max Malins has pace, guile and a try scorer’s instinct.
The compromise is to pick Malins on the wing but I’m not convinced he’s a top-level winger. He could be a brilliant full back, though. My wings would have been Adam Radwan and Louis Lynagh — pace, hunger and skill — but alas Lynagh has disappeared from the squad despite his fine start to the season.
Jonny May and Anthony Watson are on notice, only their best form will suffice from now on and neither is making waves. Up front I’m alarmed at talk of Tom Curry at No 8.
Don’t England have two exceptional No 8s already in Sam Simmonds and Alex Dombrandt?
Let one of them do their stuff in a back row with Curry and Sam Underhill at flanker. Make that tough decision.
Playing George Ford and Farrell together hasn’t worked, including in the World Cup final