Harlequins assistant coach Jerry Flannery has revealed that Marcus Smith has tightened his defence knowing he is being targeted by opponents.
Smith kicked 15 points in Quins’ 37-19 Gallagher Premiership victory over Northampton at Twickenham Stoop to be named official man of the match, but the more startling statistic was the 16 tackles he completed.
No other player worked as hard in defence and although the uncapped 22-year-old fly-half continues to be overlooked by England head coach Eddie Jones, Flannery views him as a rare talent.
“It’s important to be effective on both sides of the ball and most teams will go and target Marcus now,” Flannery said.
“He wants to improve every area of his game but when you’re a young 10 like him and you’re as talented as he is, teams will say ‘let’s run at Marcus Smith’.
Eddie Jones has been criticised for not blooding new talent in the Six Nations championship, which makes his latest comments on selection all the more confusing
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) March 7, 2021
“He put in some good shots against Northampton but if you want to play Test rugby you have to be consistent with that every week. He’s looking to do that and that’s the kind of ambition that he has.
“I rate Marcus very, very highly. He’s a fantastic player but Eddie Jones is the guy who decides whether Marcus is good enough to play Test rugby.
“You’d be hard pressed to find a more talented young player at fly-half. I’m glad he’s at Harlequins.”
Harlequins snatched the bonus point with 20 seconds to spare when Brett Herron finished a breakaway move from inside the 22, helping the club reclaim third place.
Since Paul Gustard stepped down as head of rugby in January, Quins have won five out of six games with their only blemish a narrow defeat at Newcastle.
“I don’t know if we can keep this going until the end of the season, that’s going to be a challenge,” Flannery said.
“There is real belief in the squad now and a lot of senior players are taking strong leadership roles. It’s whether we can keep our best players fit.
“This league is very, very tight. Two consecutive losses can drop you considerably. At the moment we have a bounce in form, but I can’t tell you if we’ll be top four.
“If we keep our best players fit we’ll be competitive whoever we play.”
Northampton dominated the final quarter but could not capitalise on Quins having two players in the sin-bin.
“To come away with no points is disappointing,” director of rugby Chris Boyd said.
“I wasn’t expecting to win at the end there, we were a fair way away, but it would have been nice to score one of the opportunities that we created at the back end of the game and perhaps come away with two bonus points.
“We created a little but the thing that’s disappointing was that last week we didn’t finish while this week we didn’t create.”
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now