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Fin Smith: Now to make England No 10 jersey my own

Fin Smith lifts the Premiership trophy - Fin Smith: Now to make England No 10 jersey my own
The fine form of Fin Smith was one of the reasons Northampton won their first title in 10 years on Saturday - Getty Images/David Rogers

At the start of this season, Fin Smith had two goals: make his debut for England and win the Premiership with Northampton Saints.

You would think, then, that Smith would be pretty happy with a campaign in which he made his England debut off the bench against Italy and kicked a picture perfect drop goal in a 25-21 Premiership final victory against Bath. Along the way, he was also crowned the Rugby Players’ Association’s Players’ player of the season.

Instead the 22-year-old merely says that he was “pleased at times with what I have done” in what was just his third full season as a starting fly-half in the Premiership. Once the celebratory hangover wears off, Smith says he will shift his focus to becoming England’s starting fly-half on the tour to Japan and New Zealand.

“I have come off the bench for 10 minutes in Italy and 15 minutes in Scotland and I don’t feel like I have actually made my mark at all on that jersey,” Smith said. “So that is the goal, to go into camp on Monday and give it my all and if I make my mark and make the No 10 jersey my own that would be a massive way to end the season. Fingers crossed.

“I have not really had time for any of it to sink in but I look back to what I have done in the last three seasons and I have never really been happy with what I have done on the pitch. This is the first year I have been pleased at times with what I have done. I have worked incredibly hard, I gave myself a bit of a talking to at the end of last season and said ‘if you want to be this guy that is remembered for what you want to be remembered for, and do all the things you want to do you are going to have to start working really hard’, and I have tried to do that.”

Fin Smith kicks for England
Smith has come off the bench twice for England, but now has sights set on the starting spot - Getty Images/Stu Forster

This relentless drive to improve and refusal to be satisfied is what makes Smith so special according to his director of rugby Phil Dowson, who compared his mindset to that of Courtney Lawes who made his 283rd and final appearance for the club at Twickenham. “[Smith] is frustrated,” Dowson said. “He’s always his harshest critic so he’s always frustrated with some aspect of his game that has not gone as well as he would have liked.

“That’s where the growth lies because like Courts he is always pushing, wanting to be better. It’s never quite right. I think that bodes really well for the future and making sure we can give him as much guidance around how his game can grow.”

This was certainly neither Smith nor Northampton’s finest performance of the season. For most of the second half, they were on the ropes against the 14 men of Bath. It took Alex Mitchell to capitalise upon a moment of magic from George Hendy in the 73rd minute for Northampton to get across the line to win their first title in 10 years.

Even then they had to withstand one last Bath wave of pressure with Smith now off the pitch nursing some severe cramp and even worse heartburn. “I think I did my first ever prayer, which is a bit weird, then I was like ‘we have lost, we have lost, we have lost it’ then the lads stripped it at the end and I was trying not to cry at the end, it was unbelievable,” Smith said. The emotions of the playing group were heightened by the visit of Chris Boyd, their former director of rugby, and former player Rob Horne, who suffered paralysis in his right arm playing for the Saints in 2018, last week.

Fin Smith playing for Northampton against Bath at Twickenham
Smith and his Northampton team-mates admit they did not have their best game on Saturday - Getty Images/David Rogers

“It was amazing to see Horney, obviously he had his tragic accident, but especially for the boys who played with him, yesterday was a really nice surprise,” Alex Waller, the prop who was playing his final match before retirement, said. “Hopefully he’s pretty proud, and Boydy the same, they started us on this journey, helped [develop] the coaches and moved on but he’s invested enough to still come and watch us play 80 minutes of average rugby.”

Smith has been given dispensation by England to enjoy the festivities of Saints open-top bus ride around Northampton. He hopes to be joined at Pennyhill Park by a large contingent of his team-mates with prop Trevor Davison, wing Ollie Sleightholme and hooker Curtis Langdon all pushing for a call-up. His own ambitions have been sated, but only temporarily.

“We have an individual development plan and mine was to win the league with Saints and get an England cap,” Smith said. I have now done both of those things. When you play in these games you hope you then put your hand up and get an opportunity. It is hard to think about now, I would love to play No 10 for England but being involved in the first thing and winning today wasn’t bad.”

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