Marcus Smith is one of the biggest stories of the season so far.
He just signed a new contract with Harlequins until 2022. The reported £230,000 a year wages make him, according to the Independent, the highest paid teenage rugby player in the world.
So who is this wonderkid Harlequins rate so highly?
Smith was born in Manilla on Valentine’s day 1999. He attended Brighton College in England and was spotted there during the 2015 World Cup by none other than Eddie Jones. This year he graduated to the first team at Harlequins and has quickly become a key player. He has been invited, along with Zach Mercer, to England camps as an ‘apprentice’. Jones has already spoken about Smith being a potential ‘bolter’ for the next World Cup.
Too many games?
Smith got his first team opportunity due to the unfortunate injuries suffered by Tim Swiel and Demitri Catrakilis. At the time of writing, he has already played 17 times and impressed more with each game. While his coach John Kingston readily admits Smith has played more than he expected, it seems he has quickly established himself as Harlequins’ first choice fly half.
Danny Care, Smith’s halfback partner at Harlequins, describes him as “eager to learn”, “in Owen Farrell and George Ford’s ear” and says “he wants to get better every day”. Smith has not made many media appearances because Harlequins want him free to concentrate on his rugby.
He is not a big man, officially standing at 173cm and weighing 82kg according to the Quins website. However, Smith is a good defender, and Harlequins do not generally hide him in the defensive line in the way Australia do with Bernard Foley. He is increasingly using his physicality and starting to show he can knock people backwards, as shown in his tackle on Luther Burrell in these highlights.
Smith is often praised for his game management and intelligence. One example that received a lot of praise was in a game against Wasps. Harlequins had a man advantage at the time and were leading with little time left. Harlequins had a scrum on the left side, around half way and 15m from the touchline. Smith called a backs move and as a result, everyone in the stadium expected Quins to attack the depleted Wasps backline. Instead, Smith kicked over the scrum into the corner, driving Wasps back and allowing Quins to apply even more pressure.
Smith makes a lot of half breaks and is always looking to take on the line and find mismatches. Against Exeter here he identifies Jonny Hill (5) is slightly out of position. It is a small error, but Smith’s acceleration forces an excellent cover tackle from Ollie Devoto (12) to avoid a clean line break.
Marcus Smith is the third highest points scorer in the league this year on 118, behind only Owen Farrell (120) and Gareth Steenson (122). He has already shown he is a high percentage kicker and can kick goals in big games, particularly when landing the match-winning goal in this game against Wasps. The match highlights also showed off an excellent cross field kick for Marland Yarde’s try.
Smith seems to have the rare ability to see space where nobody else does. This is shown perfectly at the end of the highlights montage video with an outrageous long pass for Tim Visser’s try.
Strengths and weaknesses
Smith is obviously very inexperienced, however this is probably his only real weakness. He seems to have a very rounded game. His fly-half play is very organised and he makes smart decisions. He is not the biggest or fastest player, but he does have good acceleration and can defend. He kicks his goals too. His most striking attributes are his passing and game management. He also challenges the line a lot, making half breaks. His short kicking game is excellent, and people who know him say he is humble and has a great temperament.
What does the future hold?
Smith may well go to South Africa in the summer. Eddie Jones has clearly taken a liking to him and as a result there is a good chance he will see some action.
In England’s recent past, Danny Cipriani, Shane Geraghty and Ryan Lamb were all considered potential world beaters at a very young age. All have gone on to have impressive careers, particularly Cipriani. However, none has quite managed to hit the heights it seemed they were capable of when they burst on to the scene. The whole English rugby community is hoping Marcus Smith develops into the world class player he could clearly become.
Author: Daniel Pugsley
I am a 31 year old from Yorkshire, England. I have played social rugby for 25 years in England, Japan, Italy, Poland and the UAE. I teach English as a foreign language, which explains why I’ve lived in so many places. I recently moved back to England and have had to take a break from playing, but I hope to pull on the boots again soon.