Fin Smith: They called me ‘England k---head’ after using wrong calls back at Northampton

Fin Smith
Fin Smith was mocked by Sam Vesty after mixing up his calls on his return to Northampton - Harry Trump/Getty Image

It did not take long for Fin Smith to be labelled an “England k---head” upon his return to the Northampton fold after spending eight weeks in the Six Nations camp.

In fairness, Smith admits this was fully justified having mixed up his playcalls in one of his first training sessions back at Franklin’s Gardens. “I was getting shouted at because I was running around calling the England plays,” Smith said. “Sam Vesty [the Northampton head coach] called me an England k---head in front of everyone.”

Perhaps it is not a coincidence that every England half-back, with the exception of Bath’s Ben Spencer, suffered a heavy defeat upon their return to Premiership. It is a particular challenge for playmakers to flick the switch between club and country where they have been ensconced at Pennyhill Park for the best part of two months, learning the intricacies of England’s attacking structures.

“Coming back from England, people underestimate how tough it is to jump between styles and how long it takes, particularly as a game-driver, a fly-half or someone in those positions, to adapt to how different coaching styles want you to play,” Smith said.

“I think especially here we play a slightly different style to what I have been training the last couple of months with England. I am not expecting to be playing exactly the same way as maybe I was the last couple of games [with Northampton] but hopefully I will get up to speed as quickly as I can.

Fin Smith and Fraser Dingwall
Saints' Fin Smith and Fraser Dingwall made their England debuts in Rome last month - Dan Mullan/RFU Collection via Getty Images)

“I’m expecting us as a group to make a few errors, but it’s how quickly we can park it, get on with them, which is really important. The more you sit in meetings and you hear people speaking about it in the Saints language. It is something you need to think about and not get mixed up between the two. You sound like a k--- when you do that.”

Smith won his first England cap as a replacement against Italy, which he has already given to his mum, but he suffered a knee injury against Scotland that curtailed his Championship. Coming into the Six Nations there was a considerable clamour for the 21-year-old to be given the No 10 shirt as the Premiership’s form fly-half. Instead, after Marcus Smith’s injury, head coach Steve Borthwick plumped for the experience of George Ford. Smith’s slight frustration at his lack of minutes was tempered by the education he received from the pitchside seat he occupied to study Ford.

Fin Smith watches George Ford during England training
Fin Smith had a ringside seat to study George Ford - Action Images via Reuters/Paul Childs

“People maybe would criticise him, saying, ‘Ah he’s kicking it’,” Smith said. “He’s probably the best 10 in the world, or if not that [the best] there has ever been at that tactical kicking game. It’s a massive strength of his. He then has that balance of putting teams under pressure with the ball. It’s been so impressive. I’ve gained a massive amount from being beside him, learning from him, and a real appreciation of the quality he’s got and what a good player you have to be to play at that level every week.”

Smith does not hide his ambition. He wants to be an England starter, but both he and Northampton will need to quickly recapture their pre-Six Nations form. Last Friday’s 52-21 defeat by Bristol Bears removed whatever small scent of complacency the league leaders may have enjoyed on the back of their 10-game winning run before the Premiership went on hiatus. Northampton’s seven-point buffer is now an uncomfortable two as they prepare to welcome the foreboding Saracens to Franklin’s Gardens on Friday night.

Certainly, there is no sense of satisfaction from Smith that he has already accomplished most of his targets for this campaign. “My goals at the start of the season were to play every week for Northampton and get a cap. I’ve done that. From a big picture perspective, I’m sure I’ll look back on this and be delighted with how this season has gone. It would be even better if this group can finish it off by winning something and doing something pretty special.

“Now I have got a taste for it that has definitely left me hungrier and something I am keen to do much more of. Once you’re capped, the next goal definitely becomes being the guy who is playing every week and driving the team. One hundred per cent that becomes a new focus. But that only comes from playing well here and Northampton doing well.”

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