Harlequins 40-5 Exeter Chiefs: Marcus Smith hands Steve Borthwick food for thought in Premiership hammering
Sister Bliss pumped out Faithless’ all-time dance classic Insomnia to fire up Twickenham, then Marcus Smith handed Steve Borthwick the sleepless nights by inspiring Harlequins’ 40-5 hammering of Exeter.
Faithless’ legendary London DJ and producer did full justice to Quins’ Big Game 14 warm-up, before Tabai Matson’s men followed suit with a six-try triumph at HQ.
Fly-half Smith was released from England training on Tuesday, under strict instruction from Test head coach Borthwick to boss Harlequins’ pivotal Premiership clash.
The 24-year-old delivered and then some, to hand England chief Borthwick a selection conundrum ahead of next weekend’s Six Nations clash with France.
Joe Marchant crossed twice, with Cadan Murley, Josh Bassett, Sam Riley and Stephan Lewies also scoring as Harlequins ended a run of five-straight Premiership defeats in ultimate style.
Jack Innard offered an overwhelmed Exeter’s paltry reply, as Quins leapfrogged the Chiefs even jumping as high as fifth in the Premiership table.
Borthwick retained captain Owen Farrell and fit-again George Ford as his fly-half options for England’s three-day training camp in Brighton this week.
Smith duly missed out on a chance to train with England at his old school, Brighton College.
A homecoming would have doubtless pepped up the playmaker, who has fallen out of England’s starting XV under Borthwick.
Once that option was removed however, the Manila-born backline manipulator turned a steely focus to ripping Exeter apart.
And from the off it was all fist pumps and fizzing passes, as Smith got into the groove and refused to relent.
England could easily reprise the Farrell-Ollie Lawrence-Henry Slade midfield against France at Twickenham on March 11.
Smith has absolutely doubled the difficulty of Borthwick selecting that contingent by his all-court showing against the Chiefs.
England boss Borthwick saw Smith’s turn first-hand at Twickenham; in terms of food for thought, this was the full chef’s tasting menu.
Bassett handed Quins a tough start with a yellow card for a deliberate knock-on, only for the hosts to take the lead despite missing a man.
Smith lit the touch paper with a perfectly weighted chip for Andre Esterhuizen to collect on the bounce and send Murley under the posts.
Exeter fly-half Harvey Skinner was binned for a head-high shot as the Chiefs struggled for any kind of foothold, leaving Quins to strike again.
Bassett flew off his wing and over the whitewash from a set strike move, as Esterhuizen fed the former Wasps man from the 10 berth.
Smith rolled wide on one decoy line, while Marchant cut shallow on the other.
Exeter were left outfoxed, with Olly Woodburn racing out only to clutch thin air as Bassett finished in style.
Danny Care conjured a magical moment to bamboozle the visitors again, turning a blind-alley break into a try assist with a stunning inside flick.
The former England scrum-half spun the ball back into play as he was bundled into touch, putting enough air on the pass to allow replacement hooker Riley to collect and dot down.
Not content with a hat-trick of tries before the break, Quins even stole the scoring bonus point too.
Smith teed Quins off with a fast, flat and wide pass from the 12 berth, then later sent Marchant home with the final ball.
In between Matson’s men raced fully 60 metres, to turn around 26-0 to the good.
Hooker Innard ploughed home to soothe a frustrated Exeter at the top of the second-half, but Quins quickly came again.
Smith shanked a curious drop-goal attempt, but the hosts maintained the momentum and Marchant dotted down from Care’s cute reverse grubber after a fine Nick David break.
Captain Lewies bundled over just past the hour too, off the back of more enterprising work from David.