Kevin Sinfield says England’s Marcus Smith now ‘world class’ at full-back

By Sports Desk October 17, 2023

Marcus Smith is now viewed as a “world class” option at full-back by England after Kevin Sinfield was blown away by his defensive heroics against Fiji.

England are hopeful that Smith will be passed fit for Saturday’s World Cup semi-final against South Africa after he was placed on modified training alongside Jonny May, Manu Tuilagi, Tom Curry, Courtney Lawes and Dan Cole.

The converted fly-half ended the last-eight victory over Fiji on Sunday with a fat upper lip and bandage around his head after he was the victim of a dangerous tackle by wing Vinaya Habosi, forcing him to depart for an HIA which he passed.

Once again he is competing with Freddie Steward for the number 15 jersey and, after two starts in the position, Sinfield sees a player who has the bravery to match his attacking brilliance.

“We’d all agree he’s a world class 10, but last weekend I felt he was a world class 15 as well,” England’s defence coach said

“You’ve got to remember this guys has played around 100, 120 minutes as a full-back in Test rugby so far.

“What he’s done on the training field for us has been outstanding. You’re blown away by what he does now that he’s being given more time and space.

“If there was any doubt how brave and courageous he is then you saw it with your own eyes. The bloke got his face smashed in and threw his body into tackles.

“The guys are in full admiration for him – he’s just got his face smashed all over the place yet he wants the ball. He’s just a brave guy.

“And not just because he’s physically tough and brave, because to be put on a world stage in a quarter-final and deliver what he delivered was an absolute credit to him. What a great kid.”

Steward was dropped from the 23 against Fiji altogether and now England face the choice of reverting to his high ball and positional expertise or rolling the dice by retaining Smith in the hope he will provide a cutting edge.

South Africa possess a far smarter kicking game that could expose Smith’s inexperience at full-back, pointing to Steward’s likely return when Steve Borthwick names his team on Thursday.

“I’ve worked with Fred for some time now and thankfully I’ve not had to have many of these conversations where I’m trying to pick him up,” Sinfield said.

“Clearly he was disappointed, as anyone would be, missing out on a quarter-final, but he’s responded as we’d expect him to.

“He is a great lad, you know what he’s about, he works incredibly hard at his game, he cares and he is unbelievable full-back too.

“We are in a pretty fortunate position where we have three world class 10s and two world class full-backs.

“Our team has changed every game throughout the World Cup and Steve selects the team he thinks it will give us the best chance of winning that game.

“Just because Fred wasn’t selected last week doesn’t mean he does anything wrong, he has actually done a lot of great things and a lot of things right, but Steve and the coaching team thought it was the right thing to go with Marcus against Fiji.”

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