Steve Diamond has not doubts that 21-year-old Fin Smith can handle the pressure of wearing the England No10 jersey against Italy if head coach Steve Borthwick opts to hand the young Northampton Saints outside half a test debut in Rome on Saturday.
With Marcus Smith on crutches after suffering an injury in England training in Girona, there is a potential selection headache for Borthwick to solve as he assembles a backline from an ever-diminishing list of candidates due to a worrying casualty list after a tough run of clubs games in the Gallagher Premiership and European tournaments.
Diamond was director of rugby at Worcester Warriors when Smith broke into the first team having starred for England Under-20s – with Jack van Poortvliet at scrum half- as they won the Grand Slam in the delayed 2021 Six Nations, scoring 31 points including a try against Scotland. Diamond said: “Fin stood out head and shoulders above anyone and I wondered then why he wasn’t being picked by the England set up.
“Fin is good enough to start against Italy or getting regular 20 mins in the Six Nations – I have no qualms about that. Steve Borthwick has an opportunity like no other where he can bring in the youth and the true quality of Fin has comes through this season at Northampton.
“Fin has a maturity about him and I remember saying to Steve Smith, the former England scrum-half, that there was a lad at Worcester who reminds me of Charlie Hodgson (who won 38 England caps scoring 269 points). He is a very level headed Warwickshire lad and like Charlie, Fin can pass off either hand and kicks goals and his unique point of difference is that he can defend. He is a brave kid although sometimes his technique is not great, but he is prepared to put his head in front of people.
“He has massive mental strength and his changing room chats and senior player involvements are huge and that is the maturity you see in these special kids. His performance for Northampton in the Champions Cup win at Munster was at another level. The fantasy would have been if Worcester had survived he would have stayed but Fin was always destined to go to one of the top four or five clubs in the Premiership.”
Smith has always been marked out as a real talent after he started playing the sport at four-years-old at Shipston on Stour RFC. Smith has Test rugby in his blood as his grandfather Tom Elliot won 14 caps as a Scotland prop between 1955 and 1958 and also toured South Africa with the British and Irish Lions in 1955.
A product of Warwick School and the now defunct Worcester Warriors academy, following the demise of the club for financial reasons in 2022, Smith made his debut for the club at 18 years and 292 days. Smith became only the second 18-year-old to play for Warriors in the top flight when he made his debut as a replacement against Gloucester Rugby at Kingsholm in 2021.
Smith started for the Warriors side that beat London Irish in the final of the 2022 Premiership Rugby Cup to give Worcester their first ever top-flight trophy and joined Northampton Saints when the club went out of business. Diamond, who this week took over as director of rugby at Newcastle Falcons, a role he previously held at Sale Sharks and Worcester, said: “When you go to clubs like Sale, Worcester and Newcastle only a fool wouldn’t give these guys opportunities. Do you pick a 30-year-old to keep bumbling around the bottom of the league or have a go at it and say right let’s see what he can do?
“The sadness of the academies like the one at Worcester, is that they produced these great young players like Fin, Ted Hill , Ollie Lawrence (both now Bath) and Seb Atkinson (now Gloucester) and now they are playing for different teams. Thank goodness they found a new home.”