Kevin Sinfield hails Marcus Smith’s bravery as England mull full-back options

Marcus Smith suffered a wound to the mouth in England’s win over Fiji

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Kevin Sinfield has hailed the bravery of Marcus Smith as England consider their full-back options for the Rugby World Cup semi-final against South Africa.

Smith made a couple of key defensive interventions in the quarter-final against Fiji despite suffering a cut to the lip after an early head-on-head collision with Vinaya Habosi.

The Harlequins playmaker returned after being patched up as England secured a last-four meeting with the defending champions.

His selection had come at the expense of Freddie Steward, who had started 29 of his country’s previous 30 games but found himself omitted from the matchday 23.

England could opt to return Steward to the starting side, though defence coach Sinfield praised Smith’s development into a “world class” full-back.


“I think we’d all agree he’s a world-class 10 but last week I felt he was a world-class 15 as well,” Sinfield said of Smith, who had a modified start to training on Tuesday due to his injury. “You’ve got to remember this guy hasn’t played many minutes as a full-back in Test rugby so far.

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

“If there was any doubt how brave and courageous he is, I think you saw it with your own eyes. The bloke got his face smashed and threw his body into tackles. The guys are in full admiration for how he’s gone about it. 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, brave, because to be put in like that – and I know he wanted to go for it – but to be put on a world stage in a quarter-final and deliver what he delivered was an absolute credit to him.

“He’s one of those who have been modified today so we’ll get a clearer read in the week but fingers crossed he will be good to go.”

Sinfield was the first England coach to float the idea of Smith at full-back during their pre-tournament camps this summer, with a couple of encouraging cameos earning the 24-year-old a first professional start at the position against Chile.

His emergence has left Steward in a strange position: the Leicester youngster had been a mainstay for England since his debut and had been considered a key part of head coach Steve Borthwick’s gameplan leading into the tournament.

Freddie Steward was left out of England’s squad against Fiji last weekend

But Sinfield, who worked with the 22-year-old at Welford Road, has been impressed by how Steward has handled the disappointment and hinted that a return is a possibility for Saturday’s semi-final at the Stade de France.

“This is where our influence, our help, and our guidance sits with the guys who don’t play, how can we help them get better, make them feel part of it,” Sinfield explained. “I have worked with Fred for some time now and thankfully I have not had to have too many of these conversations where you are trying to pick him up.

“Clearly he is disappointed as anybody would be missing out on a quarter-final but he has responded as we would have expected him to. He is a great lad, you know what he is about, he works incredibly hard at his game, he cares and he is an unbelievable full-back too.

“Our team has changed every game throughout the World Cup and Steve is very specific when he selects the team. He does it in the knowledge 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.”

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