DANNY CIPRIANI: Eddie Jones had a shocker taking Smith off during England's clash with Scotland

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DANNY CIPRIANI: Eddie Jones had a shocker taking Marcus Smith off during England’s Six Nations opener with Scotland… if the No 10 had been given the chance to finish the match we would have won!

  • England lost 20-17 to Scotland in their Six Nations opener on Saturday afternoon
  • Eddie Jones made the decision to take Marcus Smith off when England led 17-10
  • Smith – who had scored all 17 of England’s points – was replaced by George Ford
  • On paper, bringing on an experienced No 10 like Ford in the final 15 makes sense
  • However, Gregor Townsend would have taken off Finn Russell in that position
  • England would have won on Saturday if Smith had the chance to finish the game 


What a shocker. If Smith stays on, we win 

– Danny Cipriani

As a No 10, the last 20 minutes of a big game is when you earn your money. It’s a chance to really put your stamp on the game and that’s why I was shocked when Eddie Jones brought off Marcus Smith early on Saturday.

If Smith had been given the chance to finish the match, I think England would have won. The whole complexion of the weekend would be very different and nobody would be here now questioning trust or belief.

Smith had scored all of England’s points and was having a growing influence on the team before he was replaced by George Ford. He was just starting to get a foothold in the match and find his flow. He’d spent a good hour building towards that sweet spot.

England head coach Eddie Jones had a 'shocker', making the decision to take Marcus Smith off

England head coach Eddie Jones had a ‘shocker’, making the decision to take Marcus Smith off

George Ford replaced Smith, however, he was unable to give England the same spark

George Ford replaced Smith, however, he was unable to give England the same spark

On paper, bringing on an experienced No 10 like Ford to close out the final 15 minutes makes sense. In theory it seems like a move you don’t do if your playmaker is just starting to find his flow.

Maybe it was pre-meditated or maybe it was an emotional decision because Smith had just missed a kick to touch. Whatever Jones’s reasoning, it didn’t seem like a decision that was in line with the way the game was going.

There’s no chance Gregor Townsend would have taken off Finn Russell in that position. Scotland played pretty well and stuck to their game plan. It’s a results-based sport and, based on the decisions you make, you’re either the hero or you’re nothing.

England would have won the match on Saturday if Smith had the chance to finish the game

England would have won the match on Saturday if Smith had the chance to finish the game 

Smith won’t throw his toys out of the pram about it but it’s hard not to question the timing of the decision. He wasn’t having the best game of his life but he was controlling things well. Looking at it now, it was a poor decision.

Watching Smith play for Harlequins, he has been a master at closing out games in the last 20 minutes. He’s found another gear when his team have been behind in the last quarter and makes things happen. Closing a game out when you’re leading is a very different process to closing out a game when you’re losing, so Saturday was a good opportunity for Smith to show he can do both. It would have been a fantastic experience for him.

They are the big moments you want to test yourself in as a developing player but they don’t come along very often. Jones put his eggs in his basket with Smith and had to let him finish things.

On paper, bringing on an experienced No 10 like Ford in the final 15 minutes makes sense

On paper, bringing on an experienced No 10 like Ford in the final 15 minutes makes sense 

But, there is no way Gregor Townsend would have taken off Finn Russell in that position

But, there is no way Gregor Townsend would have taken off Finn Russell in that position

Going into the Italy game, Jones has to get behind Smith and show him full support.

I’ve seen him play different mind games with different players in the England environment. Some have come off and some have backfired. That’s just Eddie’s way, but No 10 is too important a positon for mind games and Jones knows that.

From what I’ve seen, he doesn’t mess about with his key men. He obviously trusts Smith to a certain degree because he has picked him to start.

I’m sure George Ford will provide a good sounding board. Those guys can learn from each other. Ford has been pushing Smith close with his form in the Premiership this year but Smith has credit in the bank from his excellent autumn series.

Now is not the time to back out. If anything, you’ve got to double up, give him time in the shirt and shape the way you play to suit his game. When you look at the way rugby is going, there’s a lot of conservatism in the way the game is played. Would I say Jones is a conservative coach? His selection policy has always been quite conservative. A lot of international coaches are conservative. It’s tough to let the shackles off and allow the team to play.

Nevertheless, Scotland played pretty well and stuck to their game plan to win the fixture

Nevertheless, Scotland played pretty well and stuck to their game plan to win the fixture

You need to let Smith run the team and give him the combinations he needs. There are a few things to iron out and they have got to do it quickly.

Playing Elliot Daly at 13 was a big call and I don’t think it was the right decision. Who do you bring in instead? People talk about Mark Atkinson playing the physical role of Andre Esterhuizen, but I think the best centre combination would be Henry Slade and Joe Marchant. 

Slade is a world class player with no questions over his positon in the team. Marchant played well at 13 during the autumn and knows Smith well through Harlequins. You don’t need to worry so much about little things like the timing of your runs. You want familiar faces around you, so I would have Alex Dombrandt at No 8 for the same reason. They always find each other at the right time.

Italy is a chance for them to flourish — and England desperately need a good performance. 

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