Can Marcus Smith and Owen Farrell steer Eddie Jones’ England to World Cup glory?

When the 2023 Rugby World Cup gets underway, England’s Marcus Smith will be 24 and, in all likelihood, armed with a raft of caps to his name.

Owen Farrell of England runs with the ball ahead of Marcus Smith during the Autumn Nations Series match between England and Australia at Twickenham. (Picture: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Barring the sort of ill-timed injury that can often cruelly afflict players around the time of the global tournament, you sense the exciting fly-half will be in Eddie Smith’s starting XV for the Pool D opener against Argentina in Marseille.

Yes, he only has five caps thus far, and from just five months of international experience.

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However, there has been enough evidence in his encouraging appearances over this autumn series – the delicate sleight of hand, composure, game control – to suggest that the England head coach should formulate his bid for world domination around the floppy-haired man from Manila.

That is all well and good. And it is thrilling, too, given the air of excitement that arrives whenever the Harlequin takes possession.

But what of Owen Farrell? The England captain, of course, will still only be 32 when England’s World Cup bid gets underway at the Stade Velodrome and, therefore, by no means a veteran, especially given the way he looks after himself.

Nevertheless, in defeating world champions South Africa without him on Saturday, Smith showing his steeliness with that winning penalty in the final seconds, England showed he is far from irreplaceable.

The question Jones might need to mull over is whether they would be able to win an actual World Cup without him as well?

In tandem: England's fly-half Marcus Smith (L) overlaps England's centre Owen Farrell (R) during the Autumn International friendly rugby union match between England and Australia at Twickenham (Picture: GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images)

Granted, Farrell can obviously play inside centre if Smith nails down that No10 jersey and, in fairness, the majority of his England appearances since Jones took over in November 2015 have come at No12.

It is George Ford who essentially felt the bullet from Jones this autumn, the 76-capped Leicester Tigers fly-half being overlooked entirely by the coach for the series and, as results showed, not being missed in the slightest.

But, with Henry Slade enhancing his own reputation this autumn, delivering a man-of-the-match display against the ‘Boks with some silky assists after slotting into the 12 role, and Jones still desperate to get Manu Tuilagi in the mix, Farrell might wonder whether his position could eventually be under threat.

With his Saracens, England and British Lions team-mates Billy Vunipola and Mako Vunipola also being jettisoned by Jones for the recent wins over Tonga, Australia and the Springboks, two years out from the World Cup, Farrell is already well aware of how hard and ruthless his coach can be with selections.

Marcus Smith of England runs with the ball against South Africa at Twickenham. (Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images)

Moreover, if the ankle injury that prevented him from facing the ‘Boks on Saturday is not cured in time for the Six Nations opener at Murrayfield on February 6, Smith will get another chance to run the show on his own.

In the long-term, are England more of an all-round threat without Farrell by his side or will they be more of a force when united?

It is clearly something to debate between now and the 2023 World Cup and it is nice to be even able to contemplate given how instrumental Farrell has been to the England cause for so long. One of the reasons Smith has been able to flourish is down to the work of England’s new attack coach Martin Gleeson who has had a clear and positive effect on their backline in this series.

They were able to pierce the ‘Boks on a number of occasions, just as they did the week before against the Wallabies, and the style and willingness to play has been refreshing.

Eddie Jones, the England head coach talks to England standoff, Marcus Smith, prior to the Autumn Nations Series match between England and South Africa at Twickenham (Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images)

So, too, has been the impact of Leicester full-back Freddie Steward over the last three weeks, one of myriad impressive performers, while the England defence has also been something to behold.

They have conceded just one try in the trio of games, testimony to the work of incoming defence coach Anthony Siebold, although conceding 18 penalties against the Boks was alarming.

New blood has emerged up front, too, with the likes of rookie prop Bevan Rodd and hooker Jamie Blamire perhaps still pinching themselves at how they have just started against the No1 ranked team in the world and helped lay foundations for a famous win.

All told, the misery of that fifth-placed finish in the Six Nations earlier this year now seems an eternity ago.

Fair play to Jones: his reboot has worked. But only he will know if there are even bigger tinkerings ahead on the road to France.