Harlequins’ playmaker prodigy Marcus Smith on recovering the knack of enjoying his rugby, adapting his game-management… and his ‘dream’ of playing for England and in the Premiership final
- Marcus Smith is back playing his swashbuckling brand of rugby after a slight dip
- Smith is gearing up for Harlequins’ Premiership play-off vs Bristol on Saturday
- The 22-year-old fly-half prodigy is set to be picked for England’s summer Tests
Now that Marcus Smith has remembered that his job is supposed to be fun, he is on a roll again and has quite a month ahead of him, with Premiership play-offs before a likely England debut.
It’s all about the smile for Harlequins’ 22-year-old playmaker prodigy. He had lost it, but now he has it back.
The sense of enjoyment and exuberance which marked him out a schoolboy sensation and saw him fast-tracked into Eddie Jones’s national squad faded for a while, but it has returned. The up-shot has been a season of creative brilliance, leading to the prospect of landmark occasions with club and country.
Marcus Smith is back playing with a smile on his face having rediscovered his cavalier style
Smith will be hoping to inspire Harlequins to Premiership play-off glory, starting on Saturday
On Saturday, Quins take on Bristol at Ashton Gate, with the prize of a place in the Premiership Final. Smith will pull the strings for the visitors and aim to stay true to his personal instincts. It means playing with freedom – and joy.
‘In my first year at the club, I still remember to this day being told I would be starting in the London Double Header,’ he said.
‘John Kingston said, “Mate, back yourself, play with a smile on your face, you’ve got an England scrum-half inside you, Jamie Roberts outside you, so they’ll take the pressure of you”. So for me that’s what I’ve tried to live by to this day.’
The outlook preceded his elevation to the professional ranks. It was drummed into him at Brighton College, by Nick Buoy – the coach who was so influential in turning a teenager who was ‘a bit too cheeky’ into a rugby rookie with rare talent.
Earlier this month, Jones noted how Smith looks like the same vibrant, instinctive No 10 he first saw in school matches in 2015, when the Japan team he was coaching at the World Cup were based in Brighton.
Smith explained that Buoy urged him to ‘play what is in front of me and do it while smiling – which I try to do now.’ But for a while, he lost the knack.
The Harlequins fly-half burst on to the scene during the 2017-18 season at just the age of 18
‘I think I went away from that, if I am being honest with myself, a couple of years ago,’ he said. ‘I am glad that I have found my smile again, and it has definitely helped me on the pitch.’
Asked why the smile vanished, he added: ‘I don’t know. If I had the answer, I don’t think I would have got into that position. But I am glad, as I said, that I have gone past that now and hopefully it doesn’t come back.’
Harlequins have surged into the play-offs with a swashbuckling, daring approach, which has done wonders in reigniting Smith’s expressive instincts. ‘I am enjoying my rugby big-time,’ he said.
‘It is a special environment, allowing all of us to be ourselves. I get excited, genuinely, with how we are playing at the minute. It is good fun and it’s how we all want to play – the Quins way, which we have all kind of signed up to do.’
The progress is Smith’s game amounts to more than merely learning to enjoy himself again though. He has matured as a playmaker. He has honed his craft and now has a greater grasp of what is needed to run a team effectively. His game-management has come a long way. Smith knows he cannot just run everything, all the time, as he once set out to do.
England boss Eddie Jones has long tracked Smith having first saw him in school games in 2015
‘I think I’ve just got a bit older,’ he said. ‘When I first joined Quins I was 18 and I had big dreams. I still do now. Obviously my first year was a bit of a whirlwind. To play 30-odd games in my first year and be thrust into the England squad so quickly was a dream come true and an honour.
‘I remember my first game against London Irish. I don’t think I kicked the ball once in 60, 65 minutes, which was a shock to my team, as well as to myself, when I saw those stats. Now, I’ve got brilliant guys around me at Quins, outside Quins as well, who analyse my game and speak to me about my game understanding. I’ve still got a lot of work to do on that, but I feel I’ve made strides.’
The climax of this season now presents two momentous targets. The first is to match the feat of the Quins team who won the Premiership title in 2012. Smith was a fan at Twickenham that day.
He said: ‘I managed to get tickets with my brother and I remember sitting there with my Quins flag, when Robbo (Chris Robshaw) scored. Back then I didn’t dream of playing for Harlequins and to be a week away, potentially, from a final, is special for me.’
When his club duties end, a Test debut surely awaits, against either the USA or Canada, next month.
‘It’s a dream of mine to play for England,’ he said. ‘It’s been a dream since I started playing rugby when I was 13… hopefully, if I get an opportunity in the near future, I’ll be able to translate my performances from club to international rugby.’
Smith is set for his England Test debut against either the USA or Canada, next month
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