Marcus Smith is a man for all seasons

In the Premiership he is the fourth highest ranked player in terms of defender beats and in Europe he has the same ranking for meters won, a remarkable total for an opening half of 128 yards in nine races.

But what will have caught Jones’ attention most of all is the fact that even when he makes mistakes, he doesn’t retreat into his shell and makes a winning contribution over and over again when the pressure is on.

Yes, the case for Smith’s retention of England’s No.10 shirt is compelling, even if it comes at the expense of Jones’ most trusted lieutenant, Owen Farrell.

The England captain has been forced to spend the last two months rehabilitating his ankle, which required surgery following an injury sustained in the victory against Australia. He is set to return for the Saracens in their Challenge Cup match against the London Irish on January 23 – five days after Jones named his Six Nations squad.

Farrell’s form last year was clearly affected by the Saracens’ season in the Championship and he’s only played a handful of games since missing the Lions side for the final test game against the Springboks.

There is no doubt that Farrell remains the key figure in Jones’ squad, but the two best opening backs in England currently are Smith and Ford, and it would make more sense to give him time to rediscover this first. form with his club.

And given that Courtney Lawes has emerged as a popular and capable leader in Farrell’s absence, Jones can look to the Northampton Saints to become England captain in the opening rounds against Scotland and Italy.

The Six Nations will expose Smith to a higher level of pressure and expectation, and with the Scottish government allowing supporters to return to the stadiums ahead of England’s trip to Murrayfield on February 5, he can expect the fiercest examination of his credentials as the last red rose poster boy in Edinburgh.

But if Jones is serious about finding out if the Harlequins opener is the right man to put together a World Cup squad in France in 2023, now is the time.

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