Fin Smith v Marcus Smith: Who should start for England against the All Blacks? Planet Rugby writers make their pick

Jared Wright
Image featuring England fly-halves Fin Smith, Marcus Smith and head coach Steve Borthwick

Planet Rugby writers weigh into the Fin Smith v Marcus Smith debate and you can have your say too!

The Planet Rugby writers have weighed in on the England fly-half debate with Fin Smith and Marcus Smith set to don the number ten jersey against Japan and New Zealand.

George Ford started all five of England’s Six Nations matches in the number ten jumper with the two Smiths both featuring off the bench throughout the tournament.

However, the Sale Sharks star has sustained an achilles injury in training and will miss the Summer tour fixtures, leaving head coach Steve Borthwick with a choice between the two talented Smiths as to who takes charge of the jumper.

During the Six Nations, Fin was named on the England bench against Italy, Wales and Scotland, with Marcus returning from injury in style against Ireland, slotting a match-winning drop goal and he had a cameo at fullback against France.

With the internationals fast approaching, the Planet Rugby writers have their say as to who should don the iconic number ten jersey against the All Blacks at Forsyth Barr Stadium and Eden Park.

Colin Newboult – Marcus Smith

Quite simply, Marcus Smith is the next in line after Owen Farrell’s decision to step away from Test rugby and George Ford’s injury. The Harlequins star deserves to have three games to prove his worth in the fly-half jersey, especially in a system that finally seems to be accommodating his talents.

Under Eddie Jones and the early stages of Steve Borthwick’s tenure, the conservative nature of the game plan never got the best out of the outstanding playmaker. It meant the greater kicking and game-controlling talents of Ford and Farrell were a better fit for the Red Rose, but in the Six Nations they showed much more ambition.

Against Ireland and France, England were rather pleasing on the eye – a stark contrast to previous years – and Marcus had an impact in both encounters, albeit in the latter contest he was at full-back. It would therefore be interesting to see how he does when given full control over that attack.

If it doesn’t work for the Quins man, then Fin may usurp him in November, but for now, the 25-year-old should be trusted by Borthwick. The youngster’s time will come and he will undoubtedly get some game time over the next month, particularly against Japan, but at the moment he needs to bide his time.

Fin is a classy operator and appears to have a remarkable understanding of the game, despite his inexperience. He has an ability to attack the line, with his decision-making in possession absolutely exceptional, while the 22-year-old also has a lovely kicking game, both out of hand and off the tee. However, Test rugby is a different beast and he must remain patient at the moment.

Dylan Coetzee – Fin Smith v Japan, Marcus Smith v All Blacks

The battle of the Smiths is a fascinating one made even better with the door left wide open for one of them to grab that fly-half jersey. On the one hand, there is Marcus who we all know is a magician with ball in hand and is relatively experienced at Test level while on the other hand is Fin who is currently in the thick of a meteoric rise that culminated in a Premiership title.

There are a couple of things that make it a tough decision for Borthwick with the chief issue being that both have had blockbuster seasons with Fin edging ahead by just a hair. So the decision for Borthwick is then; does he trust experience or throw red-hot youngster straight in?

The level of England’s opposition helps answer the question. The Red Rose face Japan first which could be a good chance to give Fin a chance to run the ship and build an innings from the start. It is also an opportunity to trial both Smiths on the pitch with Marcus at full-back, although I am not sure the Harlequin has had enough time in the saddle at the back to wear 15 against the All Blacks.

That ‘trial’ should give Borthwick enough information about Fin as a Test starter and only in the event he does ridiculously well should he be given a chance to start in New Zealand.

However, if I was making the call I would back experience and start Marcus at 10 in Dunedin as facing the All Blacks in New Zealand is overwhelming for the best of players so throwing a Test rookie in the deep end would be a very risky call.

David Skippers – Fin Smith

Both Fin and Marcus Smith will be important to the Red Rose cause, but it’s imperative that Fin gets the nod for the number ten jersey for their tour opener against Japan in Tokyo on June 22 and at least the first Test against the All Blacks in Dunedin on July 6.

The younger of the Smiths was a vital cog in Northampton Saints’ run to the Premiership title with his game management, playmaking skills and goal-kicking of a high standard throughout their campaign.

The 22-year-old also held his nerve on the big stage during a 71-minute stint in Northampton’s Premiership final victory over Bath at the weekend as he delivered a fine all-round performance and showed that he has big match temperament by slotting a brilliant drop-goal in a pressure cooker environment.

Although that game was not a Test, Smith showed that he can take the step up to the next level and if England want to get the better of the All Blacks, Borthwick should entrust the Northampton Saint with the starting fly-half position while his more experienced namesake, Marcus Smith, starts on the replacements bench.

Despite starting amongst the reserves, I feel that the Harlequins star will still be crucial to England’s cause as his enterprising style of play could help his team during the latter stages of the Tests – particularly against the All Blacks – when the starting players are tiring and defences will not be as rigid as earlier on.

Jared Wright – Fin Smith

While Ford’s injury is a massive blow to Borthwick’s squad, every injury comes with a fantastic opportunity for another player, which is the reality of professional sport. The England boss is spoilt for choice between the two playmakers and after a stunning run to the Premiership title with Northampton Saints, I would back Fin Smith for starting number ten jersey but with a caveat… Marcus Smith at fullback.

It’s clear that Borthwick wants a playmaker/distributor in the 15 jumper, highlighted by George Furbank leapfrogging Freddie Steward in the role during the Six Nations, and he has also backed Marcus at fullback off the bench and during the World Cup.

The Scott Robertson-led All Blacks are bound to have an intelligent kicking game and Marcus at fullback will help negate that with his aerial ability and stellar kicking game combining wonderfully in tandem with Fin.

The Saints star steered Northampton to the Premiership title in stunning fashion, producing a particularly brilliant showing in the semi-final win over Saracens. He continues to play beyond his years and should be rewarded for his form. With the pair of playmakers both starting, it would also allow Borthwick to be more flexible with the make-up of his bench, whether he opts for a six-two or five-three split, particularly with the versatility of George Furbank, Fraser Dingwall, Tommy Freeman, and Henry Slade.

It’s highly likely that the All Blacks will opt for a dual playmaking combination with Beauden Barrett and Damian McKenzie primed for starting roles under Robertson with Richie Mo’unga ineligible for selection and Will Jordan ruled out through injury.

A double Smith punch in the starting XV allows England to not only have a real attacking threat with the ball in hand but also a kicking threat and two players who can control proceedings.

Have your say

Let us know who you would pick in the Red Rose number ten jersey for the clash against the All Blacks in New Zealand, cast your vote.

Do you want to share your opinion on the debate? Drop us an email at, and it could be featured on Planet Rugby.

READ MORE: Winners and losers from England’s touring squad as Rugby World Cup star returns