Marcus Smith remains a ‘work in progress’ despite match-winning role against South Africa, says Eddie Jones

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Marcus Smith kicked the winning penalty as England toppled South Africa at Twickenham  (Getty Images)
Marcus Smith kicked the winning penalty as England toppled South Africa at Twickenham (Getty Images)

Eddie Jones insisted that Marcus Smith remains a “work in progress” despite the fly-half’s match-winning role in England’s improbable victory over South Africa.

Smith held his nerve at the last to slot over a penalty in the 80th minute, and appeared comfortable running England’s attack without injured captain Owen Farrell alongside him.

Henry Slade also thrived in a midfield that lost Manu Tuilagi to a hamstring injury after the powerful centre had scored in the corner in the opening ten minutes.

Jones admitted that he was impressed with Smith’s performance but said it was too soon to declare the 22-year-old England’s starting fly-half for the foreseeable future.

“You can’t make those predictions. He’s a work in progress, and each game he’s going to get a little bit better,” he said.

“I thought he did a great job today, but he’s going to be better in the Six Nations. I know he will be because he’s got a great desire to keep learning and to keep on getting better.

“Marcus, as long as he keeps improving, he’s going to have a good role in this team.”

With Farrell among a number of senior players absent, Jones’ youngsters seized their opportunity to claim a defining victory over the top-ranked side in the world and produce a performance that the Australian hopes will do them plenty of good.

The head coach had the confidence to bring on Raffi Quirke early in place of Ben Youngs, favouring a young half-back partnership to see England to an improbable victory, and also took off captain Courtney Lawes with the game finely poised.

Jones hopes that these are the first steps of his side’s “rebirth” as the England head coach targets the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France after an unbeaten autumn that he believes will give England’s starlets confidence.

“We said in the summer that the Lions tour draws a line in the sand, and that you need to regenerate and have a little bit of a rebirth to go to the World Cup,” he said.

“There’s some good players coming through but we’ve got some pretty good experienced players too. They feel comfortable within themselves, they want to be together, they want to work together.

“Our stated aim is to win the World Cup, so we want to be better in the [Six Nations]. This series just gives the players a lot of confidence I think.”

Asked if this win represents any sort of revenge for defeat by the Springboks in Yokohama in the 2019 Rugby World Cup final, Jones added: “No, I think as I said before the game, it’s a one-off game between the first and the third [ranked teams] in the world.

“We’re happy to knock off the top team in the world.”

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