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Dan Biggar deep dives into the Smith vs Smith debate

BY Jack Tunney  ·  Tuesday Jun 11, 2024

With the 36-man England Rugby squad having recently been announced for their summer tour of Japan and New Zealand, much of the conversion has once again reverted back to the old-age question of, ‘Who should start at fly-half?” 

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Well, fortunately, legendary Welsh number ten has given fans plenty of things to think about in a ‘Rugby Pod’ video released just a few weeks ago when he provided his expert knowledge to just that conversation.

With George Ford having been confirmed to be out of the summer tour with injury, it will be up to one of the two young Smiths, Marcus or Fin, to head up playmaking responsibilities for their country.

Read here what Biggar had to say:

Marcus Smith

“He’s very much a free spirit, he’s allowed to have free reign, he has the license to just change direction as and when he wants. He’s not interested in those first couple of phases, he’s just waiting for an opportunity rather than going after every phase. What he does really well is pick his moments.

“It gives him time to scan the field and see which side is better to attack. It gives him an opportunity to see where a tight five forward is, where the space is, and who he can find a mismatch against.

“People react off that as well, they know that Marcus has got the ability for one moment to play the same side, then all of a sudden last-minute change direction to come back on a bit of a loop with whoever the nine may be. This makes it really difficult, especially when you’re defending both sides of the ball. So if there’s a break in the middle of the park, Marcus has got the ability to play both sides so your defence needs to come up higher otherwise he’s gonna make you look pretty silly.

“I think Marcus has got a lot better over the last six to twelve months as he doesn’t want to be a threat every single phase. You look at the very best in the world to have done that is someone like Dan Carter who for four, five or six phases was not interested in play but all of a sudden just from sitting in behind scanning where the opportunities are, all of a sudden bang he’s exploiting a hole, he’s exploiting a loose forward, he’s switching direction.

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“By sitting in the pocket that means he’s got more time to scan, more time on the ball more time to choose his opportunity. What Marcus is doing is just biding his time to find an opportunity to go and exploit that, and by sitting in the pocket it gives him way more time to choose the best option.

“One of Marcus’s huge strengths as a ten in the modern-day game is his running threat. He wants to beat people whether that’s for speed, with footwork or little chips over the top, he wants to beat people. That’s such a threat because when you defend a ten who just passes you can focus your attention on the twelve, or the thirteen, or the inside runners. But with Marcus, he’s got the ability to challenge the line at every opportunity he’s got the ball, so every time he’s got the ball you’re thinking ‘this guy could run’ so it’s a huge opportunity for others around him as well.

“So what he does really well is challenge the line every single time he has the ball, he’s got the full bag of tricks, and his chip kick is exceptional and again that’s from seeing the space.

NICE, FRANCE – SEPTEMBER 17: Marcus Smith of England breaks with the ball during the Rugby World Cup France 2023 pool D match between England and Japan at Stade de Nice on September 17, 2023 in Nice, France. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Fin Smith

“Fin’s very good at showing to the inside and playing to the outside, you look at a lot of the times where he’s got two forwards on the outside and one of them on the inside. He has the ability to create one-on-ones to just put people into space, which is really impressive for a young guy who’s 21 years old and in his first real full season of proper rugby for Northampton with a load of pressure on him.

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“His ball movement, it makes people jump in as they think they can get to him as a defender, but his ability to play really late at the line means as a defender you’re lateral to him so he’s taking that space freeing his arms and getting an offload out. The amount of offloads he’s produced this year has been brilliant, whether it’s out the back door, whether it’s winning the contact or keeping defences guessing by being really positive with the ball.

“He’s worked on incredibly hard because the shape that Northampton play they always play a three-man forward off nine, then they’ll play a two-man forward off ten with the ball on the inside, so that ball on the inside keeps the defence honest, which allows him to move the ball. As soon as the defence comes off him he’s taking that space, freeing his arms and creating space for other people. It’s really impressive to see and something that he’s going to have to get even better at playing for England.

“His ability to kick the ball has improved dramatically in the last twelve months or so and he’s very good at some attacking kicks. The amount of crossfield kicks he does which leads to tries and breaks keeps defences honest.

“He looks like he’s got time on the ball all the time, for me that’s one of the most impressive things about Finn. As a 21-year-old it shouldn’t look that easy to him but it really looks like he’s just got the time [in the world].

DUBLIN, IRELAND – MAY 04: Fin Smith of Northampton Saints looks dejected as he is consoled by Fraser Dingwall after defeat to Leinster Rugby during the Investec Champions Cup Semi Final match between Leinster Rugby and Northampton Saints at Croke Park on May 04, 2024 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

Marcus vs Fin comparison

“They are very similar in the way that they play the game, but the way that they differ is how they attack the line.

“Fin is all about ball movement, getting you to bite in, so he can lift a little ball on the inside, lift a little ball on the outside, play people through holes.

“Marcus is all about trying to beat you one-on-one, trying to create the space with his footwork, with his pace, looking to out and out beat you, mug you off and make you look absolutely silly.

“So the way that they threaten the line is very different but very effective in the way that they both do it,

“The way which they play the game clearly depends on what style of play they play whether they’re playing for England, whether playing for Quins, whether playing for Saints.

“For me, Fin is connected every single time to the pod so he’s looking to try and create one-on-ones with the forwards, he’s looking to try and be alive all the time and look at those opportunities.

“As I’ve said, Marcus is a free spirit, he’s got the ability, he’s got the license to just roam and roam and roam and pick his moments.

Toughness to play international rugby

“One thing a lot of people don’t associate with Marcus Smith is just how tough he is. I think back to that game against Fiji in the quarterfinal of the World Cup and he took an absolute battering by some big powerful strong men, and just kept getting back up and up, and back for more. You see the number of times that people are challenging him physically in the premiership, you’ve got big number eights running at you every single week and how many times you get smashed in contact and he just keeps coming back and back and back. You can see from his passion and his desire when they score a try when he puts someone through a hole it’s because he’s absolutely worked his socks off, got absolutely whacked three or four times and you can see that passion and that’s something I absolutely love about him. He’s as tough as nails and probably something he doesn’t get anywhere near enough credit for, so if you are gonna play for England against South Africa, against New Zealand, against Ireland, against France you have to be pretty tough.

“Fin, something that he’s really good at, and something that people won’t pick up on is how competitive he is, how aggressive he is, how much he fights for absolutely every single blade of grass, across every sort of wind in the game, in training and his ability to just be mentally tough and keep going. It’s got nothing to do with rugby but it means that you’re competitive it means that you’ve got the will to win, want to win for your teammates, want to win for yourself and that shows in everything that he does in terms of on the training on the training pitch and on the match pitch. He’s got all the attributes of an Owen Farrell-type person in terms of that number ten shirt and being able to drive standards and want to be the best in every single play of the game which is gonna be a huge part for him moving forward.”

What the full review here:


People have had plenty to say about Dan’s analysis, with one fan saying: “Never heard a guy as insightful as Dan on back play: amazing what he sees & recalls & explains so clearly & succinctly. Would imagine he’d be an outstanding backline coach for an international team. Great the respect he shows for other players.”

In the latest episode of Walk the Talk, Jim Hamilton chats with double World Cup winner Damian de Allende about all things Springbok rugby, including RWC2023 and the upcoming Ireland series. Watch now for free on RugbyPass TV

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