"Enjoy Every Minute" - Marcus Smith: The Fly Half Life On Tour & His England Journey So Far Ahead of All Blacks Test - Ruck

“Enjoy Every Minute” – Marcus Smith: The Fly Half Life On Tour & His England Journey So Far Ahead of All Blacks Test

Within the ever changing landscape of the international rugby sphere, the traditional tour may soon become a thing of the past. As plans circulate regarding a World League to be introduced in 2026, opportunities like England’s ongoing Summer tour of Japan and New Zealand are swiftly becoming few and far between.

Whilst there is no denying how Test match rugby is primarily results driven, with on-field performance scrutinised to the finest detail by analysts, pundits and the coaching staff, rugby tours offer players a unique environment for new life experiences. When the players are finally released from their pressure cooker training camps it’s time to unwind, and experience the far off lands they find themselves in for the Test match series.

Marcus Smith of England and Richie Mo’unga of New Zealand swap shirts after the Autumn International Series match between England and New Zealand at Twickenham, London on 19 November 2022 (Photo: Micah Crook/PPAUK)

England fly half Marcus Smith has been making the most of any ‘down time’, as the hot-shot Harlequin is amongst the players who come under the microscope of scrutiny the most. Since arriving in New Zealand, Smith and his England teammates have relished the opportunity to enjoy their surroundings, with Kiwi-born teammates Chandler-Cunningham South and Ethan Roots acting as their fishing boat skippers and local tour guides, for their time in New Zealand.

“We enjoyed getting out and about through Rootsy’s connections. We split across three boats and we were trying to play who could catch the most fish. On my boat it was me, Manny (Feyi-Waboso) and Ben Spencer. Manny was getting real frustrated that he couldn’t catch any fish so me and Spenno moved to the other side of the boat because we thought he was bad luck.

“It was good fun. We are away from home for a while so it is nice to do and see different things in a country I have never visited. Obviously there will be competition because we are competitive people but we all enjoyed the fish after, and it tastes pretty good so I was pretty happy. Personally, (I caught) three or four. There were other lads who hauled in more than me but that was my first proper experience of fishing.

Marcus Smith of England chips the ball through, beating George Turner of Scotland during the Six Nations Championship, Calcutta Cup match between England and Scotland at Twickenham Stadium, Twickenham, London on February 4th 2023. – PHOTO: Phil Mingo/PPAUK

“Almost every time I put the lure in I managed to catch something. I put a few back because they weren’t big enough. It is not every day you get to do that and cook massive red snapper.”

“It was a lovely afternoon. We went out nice and early, the tide and the waves were pretty chilled in order for that (Australia 2022 tour choppy seas) not to happen. It was nice to freshen up the mind. Days off have been real good fun, it is important we get the balance between working hard and enjoying the experience of being on tour and getting to know your team mates real well in a different environment.”

In this era of professionalism and driving standards, it was refreshing to hear how the England squad have enjoyed some ‘reel’ bonding time this Summer. Hearing these stories of the players social lives paints a further dimension to their identities as individuals. They are relatable, with depth added to the on-field performances when emotions are running high.

Last Kick Drop Goal celebrations from Marcus Smith of England to win the match during the Guinness Six Nations Match between England and Ireland at Twickenham Stadium, Twickenham, London on March 9th 2024. – PHOTO: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

Smith discussed how Chandler Cunningham-South was ‘desperate’ to book a place on the tour, with the back-row eager to return to the land in which he grew up. The flanker came through the ranks across New Zealand’s North and South Islands, with stints in the North Harbour and Canterbury provincial academies. Cunningham-South and Ethan Roots both formerly played for North Harbour, with the trip home made all the more surreal as England have been using the club’s stadium as their Auckland training camp.

“I think Chandler has been pretty excited ever since he found out that this was the Summer tour. I think he was desperate (to go). I’ve really enjoyed playing with Chandler at Harlequins. And here, I think the last five, six months, he’s really improved his game, I think he’s really matured his head as well, from what I’ve seen, and I’ve been really impressed with watching him on and off the field. 

Chandler Cunningham-South of England during the England Captains Run at Twickenham Stadium, London on 9 February 2024 (Photo: George Beck/PPAUK)

“From a touring point of view, I know he’s got family who live not too far from here. So I think he spent a fair bit of time seeing them which is massively important. And with that, as well, obviously, for us guys who’ve never visited New Zealand, finding the new spots and coffee spots and places to go and visit has been very helpful, along with Ethan roots as well.” 

“Been touring us around? Yeah, he (Cunningham-South) has a little bit. He’s the main guy alongside Ethan, who would give us the sort of restaurants we need to go to and stuff like that. But no, I think he’s just excited to be back in a country that he spent his childhood growing up in. I know he spent some time seeing his friends and seeing his family as well, which is, like I just said, very important.” 

Smith then elaborated to explain how in his eyes, the Summer tour holds certain advantages in getting to know your teammates when compared to other times of the season. Whilst there is plentiful opportunities to socialise around Pennyhill Park and the surrounding village of Bagshot, the chance to band together with your England brothers in a far away land, is one that Smith is making the most of in New Zealand.

Last Kick Drop Goal celebrations from Marcus Smith of England with Immanuel Feyi-Waboso of England to win the match during the Guinness Six Nations Match between England and Ireland at Twickenham Stadium, Twickenham, London on March 9th 2024. – PHOTO: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

“In the Six Nations and the Autumns you do spend a lot of time doing a similar thing. There are a few coffee shops in and around Pennyhill Park, but a lot of the stuff is going to the spa and chilling in each other’s rooms. But being in a foreign county, and countries some of the lads haven’t been to, to go and explore with different groups of people and doing different things, I have thoroughly enjoyed the last few weeks  and I have got close to lads I didn’t know as well before.”

“We did speak about it before we flew here. These sort of tours don’t come around often, these sort of opportunities don’t come around often and I think with obviously the future of World Rugby, up in the air still in terms of a World Championship, or I don’t really read too much into that sort of stuff. 

“But who knows when the next time is going to happen. So for us to be (here) we’re extremely honoured and grateful to be on this tour. Because, like I just said, Who knows when the next one is going to be. So from an enjoyment point of view, we’re going to enjoy every minute, and fingers crossed, if we perform to the levels we would like, who knows the outcome.”

Last Kick Drop Goal celebrations from Marcus Smith with Alex Dombrandt of England of England to win the match during the Guinness Six Nations Match between England and Ireland at Twickenham Stadium, Twickenham, London on March 9th 2024. – PHOTO: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

Turning his attention back to the task at hand and Marcus understands the obstacle he has to overcome this weekend. Taking on the All Blacks in New Zealand is regarded amongst rugby aficionados as ‘the ultimate challenge’, with the scale of the occasion not lost upon the Harlequins halfback.

Smith grew up in awe of the All Blacks, as he watched Richie McCaw lead New Zealand to back-to-back Rugby World Cup titles in 2011 and 2015. The Brighton native discussed his earliest memories of watching the All Blacks and his idolised players, with a certain ‘Greatest Of All Time’ entering the conversation regarding his favourite fly halves.

“I am a big rugby fan, ever since I was young watching World Cups, Tri-Nations and Super Rugby. The NZ teams have always been at the top of that and competing in every single game they play in, competing in both codes. The schoolboy system is blossoming here. Their U20s have got off to a good start. Hopefully it is a packed out crowd in Dunedin on Saturday.”

Richie McCaw of New Zealand and Daniel Carter of New Zealand hold aloft the Rugby World Cup during the Rugby World Cup Final match between New Zealand and Australia at Twickenham Stadium on Oct 31st 2015 in London – Photo mandatory by-line: Graeme Truby/Pinnacle – Tel: +44(0)1363 881025 – Mobile:0797 1270 681 – VAT Reg No: 183700120 – SPORT – International Rugby

“I used to like watching guys like Mils Muliaina, Carlos Spencer. Just anyone really? Dan Carter, obviously”.

Whilst ‘DC’ had his time in the sun as the All Blacks leading linchpin, the time is upon us for Smith to step up into the forefront and continue to shine in England’s 10 jersey. With George Ford out of the tour as he recuperates from an Achilles injury, and Owen Farrell pursuing pastures new in Paris, the starting shirt hangs in the balance between the two Smiths, which provides one less job to do for the team’s shirt name printer.

Marcus and Fin are jostling for the jersey, with the Harlequin preferred to start over his Northampton counterpart for the Summer tour opener against Japan. Marcus has retained possession of the 10 shirt after a stunning performance against the Brave Blossoms, as he contributed a try and two assists to the winning effort. The halfback humbly put a helping hand towards Fin Smith, who drives his positional rival to reach his full potential in the training camp.

Fin Smith of Northampton Saints during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Final Match between Northampton Saints and Bath Rugby at Twickenham Stadium on 8 June 2024. Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

“I think for me personally, every single time I’ve been in camp, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed competing and training and learning off any 10, that’s been in camp with me. In this situation obviously it’s me and Fin.

“Fin’s a lot younger than me. But he’s had a tremendous season and I’ve loved every single day competing and training hard against him, learning off him, chatting through different clips and trying to get the best out of this backline.

“Because we believe that if more than me and Fin are on the same page, driving the same messages, we believe that if we come together with good synergy as a backline, we can score points and ultimately that’s the job of the fly half.

Fin Smith of Northampton Saints looks on during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Northampton Saints and Exeter Chiefs at Franklins Gardens, Northampton on 12 November 2023. – PHOTO: Patrick Khachfe/PPAUK

“For me, I don’t really look at it as me individually. For me to be a part of a fingers crossed, a series winning team in here in New Zealand would mean the world to me and that’s the same mindset Finn has as well and I’ve loved the last three weeks training with him.”

With so much bite in the young 22-year-old, Fin Smith is bearing down on Marcus the same way the Harlequin was upon Owen Farrell and George Ford. Smith put so much pressure on ‘Faz’ and Ford, that Borthwick could not refuse him a spot in the starting line-up, and tested the Harlequin at fullback for the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Smith expressed how he received an abundance of assistance from Freddie Steward, as the Leicester Tigers man helped Marcus learn the ropes of the 15 jersey. Addressing all from his initial run ins with Ford and Farrell, to getting his starting break in an unexpected position, Smith spoke diligently about his continued progression throughout the England camp that has led him to a commanding role against the incoming All Blacks.

Marcus Smith of England during the Summer Nations Series Rugby match between Wales and England at Principality Stadium on August 5, 2023 in Cardiff, Wales. Photo: Phil Mingo/PPAUK

“I think for me personally, that was a good learning experience and a good life experience. Growing up, I’d never played that position and probably never even had a dream or a vision of ever playing in that position for any team, let alone England at a World Cup. So to be given that opportunity taught me a lot of things.

“It gave me confidence in terms of the belief that I could play multiple positions at this level. Don’t get me wrong, I made loads of mistakes, but from a skills and high-ball point of view, I’ve really improved. From my defensive side, I’ve really improved, and I’m really grateful for that opportunity at the World Cup, where I had to challenge myself against guys like Freddie Steward.‘ He put his arm round me and really helped me with the high-ball stuff.”

Freddie Steward of England on the break as he slips the tackle of Alex Mann of Wales during the Six Nations Match between England and Wales at Twickenham, London on 10 February 2024 (Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK)

“He’s one of the best in the world in the air and his guidance and support I felt really grateful for. So, to have that experience, thinking back now, was a big moment in my career.”

“I started very young (in the England environment). I was very grateful for the opportunity. I think I hadn’t even played a game of men’s rugby when I was called up for my first camp. I was put in a position which, being honest, I probably wasn’t prepared for. I guess that’s credit to the environment and people there at the time. They put their arms around me, challenged me and encouraged me to improve.

“That was seven years ago now. It drove me to have more hunger and desire to pull on the England jersey for the first time. And I learned from seeing guys like Owen and George play for England for a long time and the drive, determination and mental fortitude those guys have. I think it’s put me in a good position at this stage of my career where I realise it’s no coincidence or accident why those guys have amassed hundred of caps. It’s because of their diligence, their concentration and their focus is to the highest level.”

Ben Youngs of England, Marcus Smith of England and Owen Farrell, Captian of England sing the national anthem ahead of the Autumn International Series match between England and Japan at Twickenham Stadium, Twickenham, London on Saturday 12th November 2022 | Photo: James Fearn/PPAUK.

Despite not regarding himself as the ‘finished article’, Smith has progressed at a meteoric rate from the plucky upstart whom Eddie Jones introduced as an England camp intern. Since 2019, Smith has steadily improved in all areas of his game, and once again gets the opportunity to take centre stage as a leading role, with a casting decision on the England team’s attack.

England fans saw a snippet of this leadership in the last encounter with the All Blacks, as Smith decided to settle for a 25-25 draw at Twickenham Stadium. Amidst all the jubilant support that drove England to equalise in the 79th minute, Smith’s level-headedness decided that his teammates had battled valiantly for a share of the spoils, having gone three tries down in the 2022 Autumn International. When asked if he would act the same way two years later, or if he would brave a last-ditch push for victory and risk a defeat, Smith told the reporting media:

“Great question. I think, ultimately in the game, I’ve got no clue to be honest, unless I’m stood there and feeling it. I don’t know what I would do or say. In that particular moment, I don’t think I would change that decision. It was one of them where, we’d fought so hard to get back to that position and Twickenham was bouncing. It would have been tremendous to win that game, but just imagine the noise if we’d lost.”