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Marcus Smith deserves to stay in the heart of “New England” for the Six Nations blockbuster

n stark contrast to the gloomy price of 12 months ago, this month of november was a decisive one for international rugby. There was no echo of the voices of the players in the empty stadiums, and rugby was also unrecognizable.

The last weekend closed a triumphant month for the northern hemisphere over the south. Saturday was the first time in 19 years that New Zealand, Australia and South Africa all lost on the same day, before Ireland humiliated Argentina on Sunday as well. This result made it the first weekend that all Six Nations have recorded a victory, ever.

Throughout the month, England, Ireland and France were all undefeated, each landing a declaration scalp; the world champion of the Springboks, in the case of England; the All Blacks for the other two. Scotland, England and even Wales, who endured a bruised month, all beat Australia.

Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the powers of the southern hemisphere have weakened. South Africa, in particular, has been in a bubble for months, competing in 13 tests since July 2. New Zealand have been whipped for two more matches, added to the schedule purely for financial reasons, on successive October Saturdays in Washington and Wales.

Australia appeared to have turned a corner in the rugby championship before a series of influential withdrawals left them understaffed in Europe. All three will come back better.

Still, it’s impossible to leave without the feeling that a Six Nations for the Ages is just around the corner. France continues to build around 2023, and Ireland looks like a real force (three games in New Zealand next summer will test it).

Wales are the defending champions and Scotland still look like a force. And then there is England. They look the most refreshed and different since Six Nations. And since they finished fifth, they needed it.

Eddie Jones’ development of a young team that lost the 2019 World Cup final to a new team to compete in 2023 has been fascinating. For two Six Nations campaigns, he’s barely made a significant change. Then the Lions offered a low-key summer in which big names were absent and new players could be bled. In the fall, Jones combined the two for a New England.

The feeling is that Jones would have considered the campaign a success whether or not Marcus Smith’s decisive kick crossed the posts on Saturday. But the fact that he did makes it much easier to think positively.

The loss to the Springboks would have been more sickening, given that England played pretty well, scored three very nice tries and were understaffed in vital areas including the front row, and they only got a few minutes from Manu Tuilagi, which changed the shape of their back line. They leaked kickable penalties at an alarming rate, but there was a lot to savor. Winning a match like this takes resilience.


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