In England’s dominant win over Tonga on Saturday, the scoreline was never really going to be the point of discussion.
For the first time since the 2020 Six Nations more than 80,000 spectators packed into Twickenham, and at the weekend they were offered a glimpse of what a future England side could look like.
Amid the late withdrawal of captain Owen Farrell due to a positive Covid-19 test – later deemed a false positive – the inclusion of George Furbank at fly-half, who has only started there four times for his club Northampton Saints, and the selection of Tom Curry at No8 over the likes of Alex Dombrandt and Sam Simmonds, it was the final quarter of the match where the optimism over what England could become grew.
Punters, commentators and everybody else are at risk of sounding like a broken record when it comes to the Marcus Smith bandwagon but following his emergence from the bench, the 22-year-old ran the show on his third cap for the Red Rose in a manner which would have you thinking he was a centurion.
The Manila-born Quin was puppeteer-like in his leadership, bossing the forwards around and keeping space among the backs. In his 20-minute cameo, Smith scored a try and landed five conversions to help England in their 69-3 demolition of Tonga.
Linking up well with the scrum-halves, first Ben Youngs and then Alex Mitchell, Smith slotted into a backline he hadn’t trained with for much of the week.
Head coach Eddie Jones had said Smith was named on the bench due to his lack of time around the squad – not that his performance would have indicated anything of the sort.
In future, the choice of who starts at fly-half against both Australia and South Africa would be a head-scratcher for most.
But Jones will have his plans in place and will no doubt stick to them.
The Australian could keep George Furbank at No10, with the player doing himself no disservice on Saturday. Or he could start Smith and up the tempo further.
Whatever Jones chooses to do, however, it’s likely to involve the return of Farrell. The Saracens man has the ability to slot in at No10 or play outside Furbank or Smith at No12.
For the first time in recent years, England look to have serious and varied options in the No9-10-12, axis which offers Jones multiple angles in which to approach any given game.
With Farrell at fly-half or centre, you get a reliable kicker and a steady distributor. He has the ability to break the gainline and put forwards through defensive holes.
With Furbank you get a No10 who runs lines and offers himself from deep. A full-back for his club, he brings with him a running instinct and a desire to slice through opponents.
But in Smith, England have a truly special prospect. The rugby intelligence of the British and Irish Lion goes way beyond his years and his ability to magic up moments of genius happens far too often for it to be deemed a fluke.