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The 'win-win' Harlequins reaction to England excluding Marcus Smith

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Harlequins boss Tabai Matson has given his verdict on the decision by Steve Borthwick to exclude Marcus Smith from this week’s England training squad. Matson was notified via a Monday phone call from the Test-level head coach that the out-half was being released back to his club to get game time in this weekend’s Gallagher Premiership.

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That decision became public knowledge at 11:45am on Tuesday when the RFU released the names of the 26 players Borthwick had included for the two-and-a-half day England training camp in Brighton.

The omission of Smith and the inclusion of George Ford as the other out-half along with skipper Owen Farrell for the fallow week gathering naturally became the major talking point, the insinuation being that Smith had now been dropped from the squad altogether just over a fortnight after he has lost hold on the No10 shirt to Farrell and made do with bench roles versus Italy and Wales.

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That latter cameo lasted just seconds in Cardiff last Saturday, Smith only sent on with the match already in its 80th minute. However, rather than look at this week’s training squad omission as a negative, Matson insisted the opposite was the case as it instead created the potential for Smith to turn on a star performance with Harlequins and force Borthwick to name him as the England No10 for the March 11 meeting with France.

“He can be here and get the minutes that clearly Borthwick wants him to get and also be in the frame to start the next Test match,” said Matson at the Harlequins media briefing ahead of this Saturday’s Big Game promotion versus Exeter at Twickenham. “I don’t think not being in training camp is going to hinder him on that and ultimately it might enhance it.

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“If he has a big game and does what we know he can do, he offers something different than other people on that England roster. He has come back (to Harlequins) with real energy and he wants to contribute, play really well. He has already helped drive some of the game plan and that is fantastic. It’s ultimately the reason why he has been in the England shirt, what he has done here, so the Big Game gives an opportunity for him to go, ‘Remember me? I can do this differently.’

“He is a really level-headed young man,” continued Matson when asked to explain how Smith had taken his England demotion in recent weeks, initially dropping to the bench and now out of this week’s squad. “He has taken that selection in his stride, like it was nothing, and understanding that, actually that’s the next level up.

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“People pick teams on what they think is going to win that specific Test match, it doesn’t mean he is down and out. In fact the type of man he is, it’s created more resolve in improving his game and we only benefit from that. It is about game time so he comes back to us so he has got the opportunity to get as many minutes as he needs. It’s a definite win-win.

“This is an absolute bonus. Did we think he was going to come back? I’m not really sure. We thought that someone like (Jack) Walker might have been more likely to come back because he hasn’t played anywhere near as many minutes as Marcus, and we thought Joe Marchant might be available… It’s going to have a big impact on this week’s prep.”

Harlequins boss Matson added that he was satisfied with how Borthwick had handled his communication of the Smith omission. “Steve Borthwick’s comms have been really clear. He has given real clear directives. I spoke with him yesterday [Monday], he was really complimentary. He has a really clear vision and that is what you want from the driving force in England Rugby. I don’t think Marcus walks away with confusion or any of those things that might frustrate him. I don’t think that is the case.

“Ultimately when you see one of your marquee players you want him to have those experiences (with England), but I’m definitely not going to throw shade on another coach’s calls. Marcus is really young. He has got a lot of opportunities to come so when you sit back and have a look at the last 10 matches for England, it’s probably a fairer context and Steve has only coached the last handful of games.

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“I’m sure he has got a plan on how he moves to that end vision because he was complimentary. Clearly, Marcus is in his group and he can do things that other people can’t. He will be looking at some point to find out how he harnesses that for the best of everyone.”

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Alex 473 days ago

Always a tough one if you're a fan of the club. I feel for him, and I want England to win, but man do Quins ever need him right now. Just a different team when he's in the squad.

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