WORLD OF RUGBY: This charming man must win England’s battle of the Smiths… as Northampton’s flying Fin showed his Test-class talent in famous victory over Munster

It was a familiar run-up to every squad and team announcement. ‘England must choose Smith. He’s too good to ignore.’ But this time it’s a different Smith. All the noise is about the flying fin.

The 21-year-old Northampton fly-half was included in Steve Borthwick’s squad for the Six Nations and it is widely believed he will be third in the playmaker pecking order behind George Ford and the other Smith – Marcus. But Fin responded to his call with the kind of performance that suggests he deserves to be considered more than just a Test student; there to learn the ropes and hold bags.

Phil Dowson’s Saints extended their winning streak to nine games in one of the grimmest venues in European rugby. Despite receiving a red and yellow card along the way, they claimed a famous 26-23 win over Munster at Thomond Park in Limerick. It was another memorable result, with Smith’s fingerprints all over it – and the tracks of his shoes.

A 16-point personal goal included a drop goal shot from close to the half-way line, reinforcing the confidence driving his personal purple patch. His decision-making, control and execution in adversity were the hallmark of a Test class talent.

This was not a parade or a razzle-dazzle match. These were the leaders of the Premier League putting their growing reputation on the line against famously tough opponents who offered a hostile welcome to visitors on and off the pitch. It was a high-intensity fight to the finish. In other words, it wasn’t far removed from what international rugby is like and Smith once again excelled.

Northampton fly-half Finn Smith (above) impressed in the famous win over Munster

Right now he’s red hot, so it’s definitely a good time to pick him for a debut. Italy in Rome in the Six Nations opener provides a perfect opportunity to integrate the former Worcester prospect, who has flourished since rushing through the Midlands last season.

While he is on his way, let him roll into the Eternal City. A start would be a big step forward, but he could understudy Ford or the other Smith, with the goal of being brought off the bench. There is a good chance that he can be deployed in a winning position to limit the pressure.

There aren’t many prime opportunities to introduce a newcomer into the primary decision-making role and the February 3 match is one of them. Borthwick will map out its squad for the first two successive rounds and Finn Smith could feature in the first round, before the more established 10s share conductor duties for the clash with Wales at Twickenham.

England are not going to play like Northampton – who have brushed aside all the newcomers with creative brilliance. But the national team can still use the man who makes the Saints dance to his tune.

The Saints rookie could understudy Marcus Smith or George Ford

The Saints rookie could understudy Marcus Smith or George Ford

The Saints fly-half could be understudying Marcus Smith (left) or George Ford (right).

Falcons need a cash boost

It makes sense that Steve Diamond will take charge at Newcastle. He is a smart operator, well versed in operating on a tight budget. He knows the Premier League inside and out. He’s a tough prospect and will make the Falcons more street smart and resilient.

Once he gets his feet under the table and knocks heads together at Kingston Park, the Falcons will find a way to break the cycle of defeat in the league this season. But all Diamond can realistically do is paper over the cracks. Major investment is needed at the North East club.

There is great sympathy for Alex Codling – who was ousted in this mid-season overhaul – who took over after succeeding in France, only to find that Newcastle’s spending deficit compared to their rivals made it a near-impossible job.

Anyone who cares deeply about the Falcons will be hoping that a Geordie businessman or consortium can be found to step in and add financial muscle. That search is something that Diamond will certainly help with, as a smart cycling dealer. There would be a case for the RFU to intervene, to help a club with such strategic value, but that would be anti-competitive, so Newcastle needs an alternative financing solution. Soon.

Schmidt will make Lions sweat

Joe Schmidt has saved the 2025 Lions tour and he hasn’t even trained in Australia yet. His appointment as the Wallabies’ new head coach means the hosts will be competitive when Britain and Ireland’s best players arrive next year.

The meticulous and innovative Kiwi will make the best of what is available within the crumbling rugby landscape Down Under, which – let’s be blunt – doesn’t amount to much at the moment, after years of failed Test and Super Rugby matches.

New head coach Joe Schmidt (above) can help revive the Wallabies' fortunes

New head coach Joe Schmidt (above) can help revive the Wallabies’ fortunes

Securing Schmidt’s services is a huge coup and a boost for Rugby Australia, which has been in a continued state of disarray of late.

After the loud and messy second coming of Eddie Jones, the new recruit will quietly and methodically build bridges and become a team to be reckoned with. He brings so much intellectual property from his time in charge of Ireland and his work with the All Blacks, which was a big factor in saving Ian Foster’s regime.

Fortunately, the Wallabies might just be a force that can make the Lions sweat for their series win.

Former England hooker Richard Cockerill has been appointed head coach of Georgia

Former England hooker Richard Cockerill has been appointed head coach of Georgia

Georgia on the right track

Georgia’s positive emergence as a leading rugby nation has continued, with their Black Lion side attracting the biggest Challenge Cup crowd of the season of more than 17,000 to Tbilisi for the visit of France’s Clermont Auvergne.

With Richard Cockerill at the helm of the national team and helping to oversee Black Lion – who are competing in the Rugby Europe Super Cup – the prospects are good.

Now all they have to do is arrange direct flights from their capital to Britain and the drums can sound louder in support of their claims for a chance to conquer the Six Nations soon.

Last word

The confirmation that the Lions will launch a women’s team in 2027, with a tour of New Zealand, is fantastic news. It is undoubtedly fitting that female players have the same lofty heights to aspire to as the men.

It is another important step in an encouraging process of greater gender equality in rugby. The vision and ambition of all involved to pursue this new venture is to be commended, but now there is a real responsibility on the Celtic associations to ensure that their women’s national teams close the gap with England so that the Lions are not just Red Roses wear red shirts.

The choice of destination for the first tour is justified, as New Zealand attracted large crowds at last year’s Women’s World Cup, but this column would agree with those who argue that France would have been a better first destination. There would be great interest there and it would immediately make a difference compared to the men’s team.