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Harlequins' verdict on Evans coaching Smith-less England this week

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Alex Davidson/The RFU Collection via Getty Images )

Harlequins have had their say on the intriguing situation with England this week where club assistant Nick Evans is coaching attack to a 26-strong Test squad that doesn’t include Marcus Smith. Evans has worked with Smith for a number of years at Gallagher Premiership level and the pair were at the forefront of the swashbuckling Quins’ gallop to the title in 2021.


That success was the catalyst for Smith to earn his debut England cap a week after the final and he was then called up to the Lions tour in South Africa, exposure backed up since then by Eddie Jones’ decision to mould his 2021/22 England team around the Harlequins No10.

With Jones ultimately dismissed as the England head coach in December 2022, incoming head coach Steve Borthwick decided to bring Evans in as attack and backs coach on an interim basis for the Guinness Six Nations and it was felt this appointment could ignite the struggling Smith/Owen Farrell 10/12 combination.

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However, round one defeat to Scotland prompted a rethink from Borthwick which resulted in Farrell getting shifted to out-half and Smith benching for the following games versus Italy and Wales.

That latter outing consisted of just seconds for Smith, who only entered the fray in the 80th minute for the final play at the Principality Stadium, and the latest development has seen him released back to Harlequins so that he gets some Premiership game time before rejoining the England squad next Sunday ahead of their March 11 game versus France.


While it is logical for Smith to get some club game time having been a little-used England sub, the decision by Borthwick meant a training week call-up for George Ford and huge speculation has now ignited about whether Smith or Ford will bench for England in round four. In the meantime, Evans coached at Harlequins with Smith on Tuesday before joining Ford and co at England camp in Brighton for training on Wednesday and Thursday.

Asked what he made of the situation whereby Evans originally joined up with England in January with Smith as the No10 to now where the player isn’t involved this week at Test level, Harlequins boss Tabai Marson said: “When you frame it like that it is an interesting perspective.


“Nick has gone in there as an assistant and is driving the attack that he drives and with regard to the selection, I’m not sure where that fits with Nick and the selection piece. I can’t comment on that but it’s positive for both of them because they are both comfortable with each other as coach and player. There is definitely trust and a relationship built there, so I am sure they are helping each other out as they go through.”

Evans, an ex-All Blacks out-half in his own playing days, now has three England matches under his belt as a temporary assistant to Borthwick. What has been his feedback to Matson at Harlequins from his time away so far?

“He has been brilliant. When he stepped back in we constantly talk about the experiences he has had, what he has learnt, what can he bring back because the context is different, what can you bring back, what can Quins do from this, what have you learnt from those other coaches because there are some phenomenal coaches and there is some brilliant stuff so we are really excited.

“The reason I seconded him to England was that we knew it was going to be an amazing experience that was going to benefit the club and him in the long run and that is happening.”


Borthwick wouldn’t confirm if Evans will be back coaching at Harlequins for their Saturday match at Twickenham versus Exeter, claiming that it was a discussion that won’t happen until the England camp is over. What the England head coach did volunteer was that the Test team attack under Evans had shown some encouraging signs versus Wales.

“What we saw at the weekend, particularly in the first half – the game second half changed tactically to a different type of game – you saw the ability to move the ball, there was more ball movement within in what we were trying to do and as you are trying to develop some things aren’t going to go right.


“But if you look at Anthony Watson’s try it was a great demonstration of what we are trying to do, the pass being given by Alex (Dombrandt). To find space, to go through the defence and then move the ball to the edge was very good.

“And if you look at Ollie Lawrence’s try, there were 13 phases and it went to each edge of the pitch and 12 or 13 people at some point handled the ball within those phases, so you are seeing the ability to move the ball.

“Now we know we are a long way from where we need to get to and attack is always the element of the game that takes the greatest amount of time to develop – it always is… The attack is where you really need people to understand how each one plays and read off each other.

“That takes time but we have seen development in that area. There will be some errors as there were but what I am seeing and what I am backing the players to do is to try and do what we are asking them to do.”


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