Following the sad demise of Premiership side Worcester Warriors, flyhalf Fin Smith has just recently signed a new deal with top-flight rivals Northampton Saints. He has also reportedly held talks with Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend this week, as the 20-year-old is yet to choose his international allegiance. With questions marks currently surrounding the number 10 jersey at BT Murrayfield, could Smith be the long-term answer to Scotland’s flyhalf troubles?
— Fin Smith (@finsmithh) October 10, 2022
Despite plenty of positives to draw from in recent years for Scottish Rugby, there now seems to be a little bit of friction surrounding the choices of personnel at flyhalf. Much to the frustration of many fans, Racing 92 magician Finn Russell has been left out of the squad for the start of the Autumn Nations Series games, despite showing fine form in the French Top 14. Gloucester playmaker Adam Hastings and Glasgow Warriors rising star Ross Thompson are in the squad but the technical team at Scotland are set on making fullback Blair Kinghorn the main man to lead the attack.
Kinghorn had a good game in the opening match defeat to Australia last weekend, yet has come under a lot of criticism for his kicking abilities after missing a penalty at the end to win the game. The Edinburgh man is still just 25 years old and may still blossom into a very capable 10 in years to come but it can not be denied that the position is very much up for grabs as it stands.
With that said, it could be just the right time for Fin Smith to put his hand up for the vacancy and push to be part of the Scotland squad in the future. Flyhalf is, debatably, the most important position on the pitch. They run the show in attack, set the line in defence and act as a vital link between the forwards and backs. If the flyhalf is uncomfortable, or under significant pressure to perform on the highest stage, teams can easily fall apart.
Long Future Ahead
Fin Smith is just 20 years old and has the potential to have a very long and bright future ahead of him. It will likely take some time for Smith to break into the Scotland first team, but getting him in and training with the squad at such a young age could significantly boost his ability. One very positive addition Townsend has made to Scottish Rugby since joining in 2017 is giving several younger players the chance to grow and progress their games with inclusions in international camps. Bringing Smith into the fold early on will not only better him as a player personally but could also bring some stability and positive competition to those currently vying for that first five-eighth spot.
Smith was signed by Worcester Warriors when he was still a teenager and made his debut for the club in 2021 aged just 18, making him the youngest player to feature for the North Midlands side in the English Premiership. He made 31 appearances in his time there, scoring 120 points in total and winning Worcester’s first-ever division one trophy when they beat London Irish to claim the 2022 Premiership Rugby Cup. Now at Northampton Saints, Fin Smith’s career can only go up from here. Under the guidance of current starting flyhalf James Grayson and director of rugby, former England international Phil Dowson, Smith has every chance of pushing on and making something special of his career. Saints also have a number of big-name players in their current roster with the likes of Courtney Lawes, Lewis Ludlam and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, who will all have a massive influence on Smith not only as a player but as a person too.
Originally from Warrick, Smith has represented England at the U20 level, collecting eight caps and scoring 52 points, but is eligible to play for Scotland through his grandfather – former Barbarian and British and Irish Lion Tom Elliot. With the competition for flyhalf spots in the England squad so stiff at the moment, he could have a much longer and more fruitful career if he so chooses to play his international rugby north of the border.
Style of Play
Another reason it may be beneficial for Fin Smith to choose Scotland is that he can implement his playing style into the team and bring something different to the side that they might not already have. As we know, Finn Russell plays his rugby with a very open and free mindset. He likes fast-flowing, heads-up rugby and is one that can often win games with moments of sheer brilliance. Kinghorn and Hasting, on the other hand, are somewhat more conventional and more like what you would expect from your average number 10. They are structured in their setup of attack and are more often than not careful and methodical with their distribution, playing with less raw instinct and improvisation than that of Russell (Although Hasting can still nail a dropkick from 53 metres no questions asked).
While both styles of play have their advantages and disadvantages and give Scotland options depending on who they are playing, Fin Smith may just be able to add an extra bow to their quiver. Smith’s approach is almost somewhere in between that of Russell and Hastings/Kinghorn. He reads the game well and controls the structure and tempo of his team maturely, but also has a lot of flair in his locker and is not afraid to give something a go in a bid to pull off something spectacular. He is also strong in defence, setting his line early and leading the charge to put pressure on the opposition ball carriers.
Additionally, Smith’s kicking game is strong, especially from the tee, proving so in his debut for Northampton against Bristol Bears last weekend, where he slotted six conversions from six in their 45-31 win at Franklin’s Gardens. Scotland’s lack of proficient goal-kickers is what ultimately saw them fall short against Australia on Saturday evening but with someone like Smith to call upon in the future, penalties and added extras could be absolute bankers.
Time will tell which way Fin Smith decides to take his career, be that playing in the blue of Scotland or the white of England, but Scottish fans can be excited at the prospect of the young man linking up with Gregor Townsend. It may be some time before we see Smith front and centre on the international scene but one thing is for sure, he has shown more than enough potential to get there.
Embed from Getty Images