"Make the Country Proud" Marcus Smith Set's Sights on Rugby World Cup Triumph & Talks Jonny Wilkinson's Guidance - Ruck

“Make the Country Proud” Marcus Smith Set’s Sights on Rugby World Cup Triumph & Talks Jonny Wilkinson’s Guidance

The 2023 Rugby World Cup is fast approaching, with anticipation continuing to build for England, as they head to the showpiece competition in France. Steve Borthwick’s side kick-off their campaign on the 9th of September, as they take on Argentina for a Pool D showdown in Marseille.

Owen Farrell, Captain of England leads his side in the national anthem during the Autumn Nations International Series match between England and South Africa at Twickenham, London on 26 November 2022 (Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK)

In 2019, England had the nation believing as they reached the Rugby World Cup Final, yet fell at the final hurdle to a crushing South African side. The Springboks ran out an emphatic 32-12 victory, as England fell apart in Yokahama, Japan.

It will soon again be time for England fans to get behind their team, with Fly Half Marcus Smith rallying the supporters. Smith will head to his first Rugby World Cup this Autumn, and he believes that England have what it takes to go far in the competition. Smith shared a message of support, and talked about how he is excited to see the England fans get behind their country.

Marcus Smith of England warms up before the Autumn International Series match between England and New Zealand at Twickenham, London on 19 November 2022 (Photo: Micah Crook/PPAUK)

“I think you’ve got to believe you know, you’ve got to believe otherwise there’s no point going across there. I definitely believe, I think we showed glimpses in that Six Nations, of what we’re capable of as a team.

“And I think with a longer preparation time this Summer, I think we’ll be able to improve our game, improve all facets of our game, and go into France really confident, and with hopefully a nation behind us, which will be a big push.”

“It’s not too far from home across in France. So, I’m sure the England fans will travel in numbers, and I’ll definitely try my best. And I know the team will try their best to make the country proud.”

Harlequins player Marcus Smith during the Gallagher Premiership rugby game between Leicester Tigers and Harlequins at Mattioli Woods Welford Road on Dec 5th – PHOTO: Steve Bond/PPAUK

Smith is fast approaching the end of the Premiership season with Harlequins, with just two matches left of the regular campaign before he joins up with England. Following a refreshing ‘stand-down’ period, the England camp will soon kick into gear for the World Cup’s warm-up matches. Smith discussed his upcoming schedule and the exciting ‘Day One’ of England camp, where Borthwick, Smith and co will set out their plans to bring the Web Ellis trophy home to Twickenham.

“Yes, so I think we get our five weeks off, our mandatory five weeks off, which would be important for us to refresh the mind, refresh the body. Then we’re into it, I think a seven week preseason, which will be tough, but it’ll be exciting.

“I was very lucky, I was invited to the last one (2019 World Cup Training Camp). So I did four or five weeks in that, and the minute you get your kit on day one, you obviously know that the end goal is to lift that trophy in Paris. I think day one is going to be super exciting, as we build through those seven, eight weeks, I think we’ll get more clarity in the way we want to play. I think we’ll get more cohesive as a team, and I think we’ll be in a good position to win the trophy in France.”

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.

Marcus Smith endured an emotional rollercoaster of a campaign, throughout the 2023 Guinness Six Nations. The fly-half selection saga dominated the weekly discussions, as Smith battled against captain Owen Farrell and returning veteran George Ford, for the number 10 jersey.

Constantly in the media’s spotlight, Smith showed great resiliency to battle back after being dropped from the England camp. Despite the draining fortnight for Smith, the Harlequins talisman harbours no hard-feelings towards Borthwick. However Smith discussed how he did in fact have the slightest doubts on his England return, as Farrell and Ford both remained in the England camp.

Marcus Smith of England during the Guinness Six Nations match between England and France at Twickenham Stadium, Twickenham, London on Saturday 11th March 2023 | Photo: James Fearn/PPAUK.

“Yes, I guess I had a half of a percent inclining, that that could have been me (finished with England). But I trust Steve, every conversation I’ve had with him has been honest, it has been constructive feedback. And therefore I trusted him. I went away, I worked on my game, tried to put my best foot forward that weekend, and obviously things happened off the back of that.

“But there was a half a percentage, like there would be for everyone, that you never know when your last game is for England. I tried to remove that from mind as soon as possible, because it wasn’t helping me, it wasn’t helping me to help the team, and I was going to be useless that week. So I tried to get rid of out my mind.”

Steve Borthwick, Head Coach of England Rugby during the England Rugby Captains Run ahead of the Six Nations Match between Wales and England at Principality Stadium, London on 24 Feb 2023 (Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK)

Borthwick released Smith to gain Harlequins game time, as he was under-par against Scotland, played just 10 minutes against Italy, and a matter of seconds against Wales. As England coincidentally moved their training camp to Smith’s former school at Brighton college, the fly half took no backwards-step, and promptly tore Exeter Chiefs apart in his Premiership return.

Smith delivered a Player of the Match performance, as Quins decimated Chiefs 40-5 at Twickenham Stadium. Smith then returned to ‘HQ’ to start in the record 53-10 home loss against France, with the 24-year-old providing a shining light, on an incredibly dark day for England.

It has become well publicised that Marcus Smith has been gaining tutelage from legendary Fly Half Johnny Wilkinson. Smith has been training with England’s 2003 Rugby World Cup winner for a good few years now, which has helped mould the Harlequin into the enigmatic talisman who leads the line at the Stoop.

Yet Smith’s first Rugby World Cup will bring previously undiscovered challenges, and Wilkinson’s guidance of ‘been there, won that’ will be ever more valuable as Smith navigates his way through the tournament. The Brighton boy joked about his frequent contact with Wilkinson, but also spoke open-heartedly out how the former England fly half is a constant help in his early career, and where he has improved whilst under Wilkinson’s wing.

Marcus Smith of England lining up ready to kick a penalty during the Six Nations Championship match between England and Ireland at Twickenham Stadium, Twickenham, London on the 12th March 2022 – PHOTO: George Tewkesbury/PPAUK

“I think if I rung him every day he’d block my number! But you know, I just chat to him probably a couple of times a week. I try and kick with him once a week when I can. I just chat to him about life, chat to him about his experiences, and try to learn as much as I can off him. As I said he’s been brilliant for me in rugby, as well as outside of rugby. So I’ve got a lot of appreciation for him and I’m very grateful that he’s part of my life.”

“I’ve been very grateful. I’ve been working with Johnny now for six or so years, and the lessons he’s taught me in my first year, and in the years that have gone by as well, have put me in a good position that I’m able to move on lot quicker than I used to.

Marcus Smith of Harlequins looks dejected after losing during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Exeter Chiefs and Harlequins at Sandy Park on 25th September 2022. Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

“I used to be a terrible loser. And I used to get frustrated really easily just because I was competitive, and I wanted everything to be to be brilliant. But I think now I’m a bit older, and now that I’ve played a few more games, I think I understand that it doesn’t always go to plan.

“Obviously, the 15 in your team are desperate to win, but the opposition are desperate to win as well. Therefore, if you hang your hat on that, I think you go through the roller coaster a bit. As I said, if you focus on ‘are you working as hard as you can through the week, are you improving as a person, as a player? Are you helping the team get better?’ I think you can hold your head up high whatever the result is, you know?

Try Celebrations for Marcus Smith of England during the Autumn Nations Match between England and Tonga at Twickenham Stoop on 6 November 2021. Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

“And as well as that, it’s obviously been tough this year. In terms of I was injured for 10 or so games, and I missed a key part of the season. And I haven’t played as much rugby as I have in the past, which obviously the more rugby you play, the more rhythm you get, and the more match fit you get.

“So I think that’s added to it as well. But I’m not here to make excuses. I haven’t been at the levels that I know I can hit and I know I want to hit, but there’s still time. And there’s still a lot of the year left. So fingers crossed.”

Nick Evans, Attack and Backs Coach of Harlequins during the Gallagher Premiership match between Exeter Chiefs and Harlequins at Sandy Park on 4th June 2022. Photo: Phil Mingo/PPAUK

Another coaching figure who Smith is very familiar with is Harlequins Attack Coach Nic Evans. The former Harlequins back was brought into the England camp by Borthwick for the 2023 Six Nations. Yet Evans has since departed from England, leaving a vacancy for the role ahead of the 2023 Rugby World Cup. Smith discussed this change, and is excited to meet the new coach once they are appointed.

“I think ‘Snapper’ did a brilliant job. Coming into England in the Six Nations I thought we added a few different ideas to the table, I thought he was very helpful for me being in that environment. And I think having spoken to him a little bit about it, I think he’s learned an awful lot from from being in that environment.

LONDON, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 16: Nick Evans of Harlequins dives in to score a try during the Aviva Premiership match between Harlequins and Wasps at Twickenham Stoop on October 16, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images for Harlequins)

“So I think he’s a better coach and I think we’re feeling that with Quins at the minute, he’s definitely improved since being in that environment. Obviously I’m not in this decision making process as to why he (left), I don’t really know the dynamics of what happened there.

“But I know he loved being in that environment, he loved putting that England rose on even though he’s a Kiwi. Obviously, it’s going to be a different Attack Coach coming into the World Cup. So again, a new relationship for me to build and grow. But having Nick Evans on the outside as well as being able to talk to him, and bounce ideas off him knowing that he’s been in that environment before, will be helpful for me as well.”

Marcus Smith of England slips the tackle of Siya Kolisi, Captain of South Africa during the Autumn Nations International Series match between England and South Africa at Twickenham, London on 26 November 2022 (Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK)

“Every single attack coach that I’ve worked with England has been brilliant, has added things to my game has challenged me on certain levels and I’m thankful for all of them. Hopefully, I get along well with this new attack coach, and hopefully I can learn learn things off them as well. Which will hopefully add to my game and and improve me going forward.”

Smith will return to Twickenham Stadium this Saturday, as Harlequins make the short walk over from the Stoop to take on Bath in the ‘Big Summer Kick Off’. Quins will then say farewell to their home fans, as they travel to Leicester Tigers for the closing match of the regular season, and a last-ditched effort to break into the Premiership play-offs.

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A picture shows the Webb Ellis Cup, the trophy awarded to the winner of the Rugby World Cup, during a photo call at a press conference to launch the venues and schedule for the 2015 Rugby World Cup at Twickenham Stadium in west London, on May 2, 2013. AFP PHOTO / ANDREW COWIE (Photo credit should read ANDREW COWIE/AFP/Getty Images)

Then all eyes turn to England, and a chance for Marcus Smith to immortalise himself in the annuals of England rugby history. With Wilkinson providing invaluable advice, Smith has established himself into the best possible position, to ride the support of a nation towards a Rugby World Cup triumph.