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'Already leading like our 10s should lead': Lions verdict on Smith

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by PA)

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Lions assistant Gregor Townsend has a curious verdict on mid-tour call-up Marcus Smith: On the one hand, they are pleased he has fitted seamlessly into training and has no hesitation calling the shots there but on the other hand, they are managing expectations for fear they could be left disappointed by what unfolds for the team this Saturday versus the Stormers.


With Finn Russell injured and Dan Biggar sidelined along with Owen Farrell as Warren Gatland wants them freshened up ahead of next week’s first Test preparations, the baton at No10 has passed to Smith, the playmaker who has been in his element in recent weeks.

First, Bristol and Exeter were stunningly outmanoeuvred to help Harlequins win the English Premiership title for the first time since 2012. Then came his first two Test level caps, Smith chosen by Eddie Jones to be the England No10 in the summer series wins over the USA and Canada.

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And now the 22-year-old finds himself flung into the heat of a Lions tour, trying to guide this Saturday’s team to a momentum regaining win over the Stormers following the midweek 17-13 loss to South Africa A.

It’s the Lions’ last preparation match ahead of the Test series opener on July 24, a match where Biggar is tipped to be the starting No10, and they are hoping that the newly arrived Smith can provide the guidance that leads them to a confidence-boosting win ahead of their keenly awaited series versus the Springboks.

“I’m excited but I am also managing my expectations and I am sure we all are,” said Townsend, the attack and backs coach who recently missed a week of the tour through self-isolation in a Johannesburg hotel following the Lions squad’s virus issue. “This is a tough game for the whole squad. We have had only one training session going into the game, so the Wednesday-Saturday turnaround is really tough so things won’t go perfectly.


“We saw that with the second Sharks game – when a team doesn’t have a huge preparation it takes them a while to get into the flow of things. For someone like Marcus, it is his first game. He has not had the Jersey camp, he has not had the three or four weeks we have had in South Africa, so we have just got to enable him and allow him to play what he sees.

“Already he is leading like our 10s should lead but saying this is the play we are doing but also giving feedback where forwards should be, what we should be doing at a certain time, so that is great because he has got to feel things naturally and if he plays as well as he has for his club and his country the last few weeks he will go well.”



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