'I'm glad I've found my smile again, I went away from that a couple of years ago'
Marcus Smith has spoken about how his demeanour on the rugby pitch is now very different to what it was in recent years at Harlequins. The 22-year-old Gallagher Premiership player of the year nominee has been in regal form in recent months, his swashbuckling play accompanied by an infectious beaming smile across his face, something that wasn’t the case not so long ago.
It was June 2019 when he was chosen in an England XV versus the Barbarians and he was regularly touted since then as the next big thing in the wake of that emergence. However, Smith remains uncapped at Test level but England boss Eddie Jones appears to have recently warmed to him again following a rich run of form at Harlequins.
“What we are seeing from him is more like when he played at Brighton College,” said Jones at the start of June. “I remember watching him in 2015 at Brighton College where when there was something on he took it and maybe for a period of time he was more likely to be a pattern player.
“He is getting a nice balance in his game between understanding the responsibilities of getting the team organised but then playing what is in front of him and his development is really positive.”
Smith made himself available for a rare media briefing this week with Harlequins preparing for Saturday’s Premiership semi-final at Bristol and he jogged his memory back to those care-free schooldays when quizzed by RugbyPass about the recent Jones comments and what he was like as a teenager.
"For a period of time he was more likely to be a pattern player…"
– The England verdict on out-half prospect Marcus Smith https://t.co/ZtbvJnLXzg
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) June 3, 2021
“When I was a bit younger I was a bit cheeky, a bit too cheeky. I got told off a little bit when I was younger. But as I grew older in the school I credit a lot of it to Nick Buoy, the way he managed me in my last couple of years at school was brilliant. He made me run the warm-ups, he made me organise the team through the school day, announce the team. I had to do that at 17, 18 years of age.
“So he made me take on those sorts of responsibilities pretty early and then on a rugby side he always told me to play what is in front and do it while smiling which for me I try and do now. I went away from that, if I am being honest with myself, a couple of years ago and I’m glad that I have found my smile again because it has definitely helped me on the pitch.”
Why did you lose your smile? “I don’t know. If I had the answers I don’t think I would have got into that position myself but I am glad that I have gone past that now and hopefully it doesn’t come back because it helps me out and keeps me happy.”
What has certainly helped is his faith. While being interviewed Smith wore a gold cross necklace and he went on to outline the role religion plays in his life. “Yes, I do believe in God. I pray a fair bit with my mum, she prays for me all the time. I try and keep God on my side so he looks after me on the field.”
That field is now the stage where Smith has become another star name showcasing the increasing diversity prevalent in the game in England. Born in Manila, Smith spent the first twelve years of his life in Asia and that background makes him feel enormous pride. “I’m very proud of being born in the Philippines. I’m very proud to have lived some of my life there,” he enthused.
“I know what it is like back there and if I can be of any inspiration at all to any young player in England, in the Philippines or wherever it may be, I would love to do that. It’s a privilege and an honour to do that but it’s not at the forefront of my mind.
“For me, it’s about delivering good performances week in week out for a club I love, do my friends and family proud and then hopefully in turn that will encourage people to get out and play rugby because it is good fun for me and I hope it is good fun for them as well.”
Harlequins is definitely where Smith’s heart is. The youngster has made more than 100 appearances for the club but was rumoured with a move away before a deal was signed not long following the sudden January departure of Paul Gustard as head of rugby. The teenage fan who went on to wear the No10 jersey is delighted his future is now secure there. It was a dream of mine to play for Harlequins,” he continued.
“I remember watching Harlequins at Twickenham in the Premiership final so I was desperate to do that. Obviously, there were rumours circulating around me but when the offer was made by Harlequins it was a no-brainer for me.
“I was desperate to continue my time at my childhood club and I love the group the minute, I love the way the coaches are connecting with us and I hope to stay here for a very long time. I am desperate to deliver trophies to this club because it definitely holds a special place in my heart.”
England boss Jones recently highlight how rucks in the southern hemisphere have quickened up this year, the average ruck time falling from three to two seconds, and it is apparent in recent months in the Premiership that the tempo is also increasing, something that perfectly suits Smith’s speedy style of play.
“We speak a lot about the lightning-quick ball, we try and make the ball as quick as possible,” he explained about the Harlequins approach. “We have got brilliant back-rowers, we have got brilliant tight-five forwards who have been excellent all season, very physical, very brutal at the breakdown.
“It’s making life very easy for me and Danny (Care) and the rest of the backs so massive credit has got to go to the forwards, and we have gone back to our DNA in terms of offloading and keeping the ball alive which I guess stops the ruck completely which has been a massive positive for us.
“It’s something we are going to try and bring to this weekend (in Bristol) because when the sun comes out, it makes it a lot easier and hopefully we can speed up the ruck to give me and the rest of the backs a chance.”
"I know what I'm like at that weight and there is no chance I'd be running around the field like he does"
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) June 4, 2021
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