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Marcus Smith's rise to England No 10: Harlequins fly-half's journey to become Eddie Jones' Six Nations playmaker

From Manila to Singapore, Brighton to Twickenham, we look at how Marcus Smith has developed into England's key attacking outlet while still in his early 20s; we chronicle his journey to this point, including a trial with Tottenham, his influence at Quins; plus the danger of over-hype

Marcus smith

We look at Marcus Smith's rapid rise in becoming England's starting fly-half, and his journey from the Philippines to Singapore, on to Brighton and into rugby via trials at Tottenham...

From the Philippines to Singapore, and on to Brighton

Born on the Valentine's Day of 1999 in the capital of the Philippines, Manila, to a Filipina mother, Suzanne, and English father, Jeremy, Smith's rise to the England Test arena has been a circuitous one.

His first taste of rugby came as a six-year-old in Manila - the most densely populated city on the planet at 46,000 people per square mile - milling around among games set up by expat dads. Indeed, Smith's own father played for Hong Kong and the Philippines internationally as a winger.

Within a year, Smith and his two younger brothers - Luc and Tomas - had moved west to Singapore, where he began playing rugby for a team for the first time: Centaurs Rugby Club, starting off as a scrum-half and touring Australia and Indonesia with a Singapore Barbarians side.

By the age of 13 Smith and family had relocated to Brighton, where he continued to play rugby alongside a host of sports - cricket and football to a high standard too - switching to a playmaking fly-half in his mid-teens.

Marcus Smith, credit Insta
Image: Smith with parents Suzanne and Jeremy, and brother Luc (credit: @marcusmith10)

Attending Brighton College on a sports scholarship, Smith played cricket for the first XV, and had a trial with Tottenham Hotspur aged 15, having made football his main sport. He had also previously trialled with Harlequins at 14 and, when Spurs told him he wouldn't make it, his focus turned to the oval ball.

Smith joined Quins full-time at the age of 18 after finishing school, but not before his and current England boss Eddie Jones' paths had already crossed.

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With Jones in charge of Japan at the 2015 World Cup and based at Brighton College before their miraculous World Cup victory over the Springboks, Smith caught the eye in training while undertaking his A-Levels.

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Eddie Jones and Smith crossed paths in 2015, and the England head coach says he has a big part to play in England's future

Upon joining the Quins set-up, a series of injuries saw Smith thrust into first-team action earlier than anticipated, facing London Irish at Twickenham in September 2017, before he went on to start 18 Premiership fixtures during the 2017/18 campaign.

In the autumn of 2017, Jones called Smith in as part of a 33-man, three-day England training camp in Oxford - the Quins 10 having only started twice for the club by that point, but already having been awarded man of the match for a 14-point salvo against Wasps which included two late penalties, something he would develop a penchant for.

Smith had also linked up with England in their pre-season camp at Teddington a month previously, as the wily Jones had clearly seen something he felt he could cultivate.

Smith's first chance to impress in senior England colours came in a non-cap clash against the Barbarians in June 2019 in front of the Sky Sports cameras, as a vastly inexperienced XV pulled off a shock 51-43 victory over a star-studded Baa-Baas squad.

Smith kicked all six of his conversions, plus three penalties and scored a try in the win, while he also played a key part in two further England tries as part of an outing filled with potential.

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Smith starred as an inexperienced England XV pulled off a shock 51-43 victory over a star-studded Barbarians at Twickenham in 2019

Smith racked up 100 appearances for Harlequins by March 2021, becoming the second youngest player (21 years 207 days) to score 500 Premiership points along the way. Only Jonny Wilkinson (21 years 100 days) had achieved the feat at a younger age.

With his weekly performances at club level becoming more and more influential, Smith was finally handed his Test debut against the USA in July 2021, kicking eight points and scoring a try.

A week later, Smith was a surprise call-up as injury cover for Finn Russell on the British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa as his career went into overdrive, finding out in the tunnel at Twickenham after being replaced in the second half of England's summer Test against Canada.

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Smith spoke to Sarra Elgan for Sky Sports in South Africa having been called into the British & Irish Lions squad as injury cover for Finn Russell
Marcus Smith nailed all his kicks against the Stormers
Image: Having debuted as an England player in July 2021, Smith was a Lion within weeks

A maiden autumn series followed, as Smith kicked the winning penalty in a 27-26 win against South Africa, while the 2022 Six Nations brought him a championship debut and he was handed the reins to guide England in an attacking sense.

Smith's influence in Quins camp; a spectacular Premiership title

He may be just 23 years old (since February), but there are few players, if any, in the Premiership as significant to their clubs as Smith.

In a sensational and unlikely Premiership title success last season, Smith picked up the league's Golden Boot award after registering 286 points - some 98 more than the next highest - scoring eight tries and also laying on 15 try assists.

Image: Smith lifts the Premiership trophy in 2021 after a sensational Harlequins triumph

Superbly creative, he also beat 41 defenders and made 20 clean breaks in attack over the season, as Quins fought back from the sacking of head coach Paul Gustard in January 2021 and finished fourth in the regular league standings to embark on a spectacular playoff series.

Playing away to Pat Lam's high-flying Bristol in the semi-finals, Quins - without a head coach in position - fell 28-0 down at Ashton Gate and looked dead and buried, before pulling off a remarkable 43-36 success in which they scored with four minutes to go to force extra time at 31-31, and then scored in the final minute of extra time to secure victory.

Smith was critical to the running game deployed that day by the Bears in search of tries, nailed the conversion at the end of normal time to keep Quins in the game, and picked up try assists for both scores in extra time.

Marcus Smith is one four players who helped Harlequins to their Premiership final victory over Exeter on Saturday to be named in Eddie Jones' England squad
Image: Smith and co pulled off an incredible comeback semi-final win over Bristol last year, and came back again to win the final against Exeter

A week on the club were making their first final appearance since they last won the Premiership in 2012, facing defending champions Exeter Chiefs - who finished 11 points ahead of them in the table - and falling 14-7 and 31-26 behind, before two late Louis Lynagh tries saw Quins win brilliantly.

Smith was flawless from the tee on the occasion of his first final, landing all four efforts including the final two conversions from out wide, while the occasion showed off his wonderful range of passing - which directly created two tries - and the goosestep he so favours with ball in hand to create another.

Image: Smith is hugely influential in terms of Quins' performances

Quins have been utterly transformed, with Smith growing game-by-game, and his relationship with experienced scrum-half Danny Care and free-scoring No 8 Alex Dombrandt has developed into a hugely effective triumvirate.

The amount of times Smith has been crucial to wresting victory from the jaws of defeat for Quins is no longer a coincidence, with clutch penalties, tries, conversions and pieces of attacking play par for the course over the last two seasons.

It's something the out-half now seeks to bring to Test level, after club form Jones could not ignore.

A wonderful playing style and skill-level, but danger of over-hype

For all the excitement Smith's immense talent has generated, there has been a very real danger of over-hype during this Six Nations period too.

Smith is not the finished article at Test level - far from it - and he should not be expected to be so in his first Six Nations campaign, nor should he be passed off as such.

Marcus Smith scored all of England's points against Scotland at Murrayfield
Image: Smith scored all of England's points against Scotland at Murrayfield in Round 1
Marcus Smith celebrates his try against Scotland

The man of the match award he received from England's 23-19 win over Wales in Round 3 was particularly hard to fathom for example, with forwards Ellis Genge, Maro Itoje and Dombrandt having far more of an impact on the Test.

While there have been glimpses of his precocious talent over the last month or so at the highest level of the sport, there have been errors too.

In the opening game against Scotland at Murrayfield, he thrashed at his first penalty kick and was fortunate it went over, missed the conversion to his own try, and also missed touch with a penalty from hand just prior to being subbed off as England conspired to lose after Luke Cowan-Dickie's sin-binning.

Had he stayed on, England may have been more likely to win the game, but it is difficult too to legislate for the sort of error made by Cowan-Dickie - batting the ball off the park and conceding a penalty try.

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Jones admitted he was massively disappointed with the defeat to Scotland in their Six Nations opener

Smith notched all the points at Murrayfield in a hostile atmosphere, and while it was a great start for a young player in a very demanding position on the pitch, it was not the all-conquering display some have portrayed it as.

He was named man of the match against Italy a week later, scoring a try and beating six defenders with ball in hand - the most by an England player since Wilkinson in 2002 - but analysis of performances against this current Azzurri side are difficult, such is their lack of quality.

From an England persuasion, most of the talk heading into this 2022 Six Nations revolved around Smith, as he is a rare attacking commodity in the sense that he can do near enough everything well - tactical kicking, a running game, an exceptional step, excellent passing range and a reliable place-kicker.

Small in stature, his defensive game has yet to be truly trusted, and if England lose to Ireland at Twickenham on Saturday, they will be out of the title running with a round to spare.

There remains room for growth for both Smith and England, therefore, and he does not need to be christened the world's best before he has truly played to that level.

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