The contention to be England’s starting fly half has entered the newest chapter, following Owen Farrell’s self withdrawal from Steve Borthwick’s squad, to prioritise his mental health. The two leading candidates for the 10 jersey are now Marcus Smith and George Ford, with the two halfbacks meeting in last Friday’s Premiership fixture.
Smith got the upper hand on his positional rival, as Harlequins ran roughshod on Sale Sharks for a 36-3 victory at the Twickenham Stoop. Smith shone in this win against the league leaders, with a Player of the Match performance seeing him slot nine points through the uprights. Smith was back to his very best at fly half, after a self-admittedly slower return to the position than he would have hoped, following his stint at full-back throughout the Rugby World Cup.
Speaking in the post-match media after Harlequins’ win, Smith was delighted to be back on track in the famous quarters, yet also discussed that he’d reached out to his former England captain. Despite their storied rivalry at the neighbouring London clubs, Smith and Owen Farrell have a strong friendship built on mutual respect and their drive to succeed.
“First and foremost, like I said this week was about getting myself back on track, and like I said, the last few weeks I haven’t been happy with my performances. I spoke to ‘Faz’ this week, and checked if everything was alright, and I wish him all the best from the bottom of my heart.
“For me, I’m not looking too far ahead, we’ve got two big weeks coming up in Europe again. Something that this club we’re desperate to do well in. I know the boys are desperate to do well in, and all our focus is going to be on Racing and Racing only.”
As the 24-year-old highlighted, Harlequins have finished their Premiership block in fine form ahead of a two week venture into the Champions Cup. The Londoners are set for a trip to Paris this weekend, as they take on Racing 92, before they welcome Toulouse to the Stoop for an exhilarating match-up in a fortnight’s time. Back in his preferred fly half position, Smith discussed how the positional transition was initially difficult, after spending the best part of six months at full-back in the England camp.
“To be honest, I found it hard the last three weeks I’ve been playing. Obviously, the last six months prior to that, I was playing predominately 15, training 15. So, I tried to bring it back to basics. This week, I had a good chat with the coaches, had a good chat with the psychologist at the club. For me, it was just about putting my super strengths on the park, at 10, making good decisions, and off the back of that, then I can influence the team and lead.
“Tonight was massively important for me to get back on page, do the basics well, and like I said, I wasn’t happy with my performances in the last three weeks. So, to finish the Premiership block with this performance, on the back of all the hard work the boys did. I’m really happy, and I know all the lads are happy in sheds.”
“I would say predominantly just minutes playing 10, obviously it’s a different position. Potentially, I was slightly naive in thinking it would be slightly easier, and probably took a bit longer than I’d like. But, the people that we have in the club, always put their arm around me, always back me up, and to have that confidence put into you, and I’ve had it for the last six years, is very special for me and my family. As I said this week, I try to focus on just bringing it back to basics. Enjoying my rugby, Because I love playing here, and I love playing for this club.”
Smith show-stealing moment against Sale, saw him slalom his way through the midfield, before sending Danny Care in to score with a well-weighted offload. The Harlequins halfbacks were in flying form in the famous quarters, with the partnership looking like a dangerous collaboration that could transfer into England colours. Smith discussed his thoughts, as he broke away to set up the try for ‘Deece’, and how influential Care has been on his journey for both club and country.
“At the start the game, I just thought shift the ball early, obviously, they (Sale) have got a massive line-speed to their team. I thought when I was in the sheds at half time, to have a go second half, early. Because I haven’t had a go all day. And luckily, there’s a little gap. I always know whenever I make a break, ‘Deece’ is going to be on the inside. Still got a lot of pace, he does, so I love playing with him.”
“I’m not the England coach, and fingers crossed (they play together). You never know. Like I said, I love playing with ‘Deece’, over the last six years. He’s looked after me on and off the field. He’s taught me a lot on and off the field, and he’s an exceptional bloke and an exceptional player. So every time I take the field with him, I’ve got a massive smile on my face.”
“Yeah, I think the last two weeks, we’ve done a lot of reflection as a group and myself individually, we’ve done a lot of reflection. To have this performance, especially as the last game in the Premiership, against top of the table, we knew it was going to be tough, and it was brilliant for us to finish ourselves in the Premiership with that sort of performance in front of our friends and family. We love that one. Now we can enjoy the weekend.”