Marcus Smith: Five key areas from Saturday’s performance which would have impressed England head coach Steve Borthwick

 Credit: Alamy
Credit: Alamy

After being released from the England squad last week, Marcus Smith had plenty to prove when playing for his club side Harlequins on Saturday.

Although head coach Steve Borthwick claimed it would not affect his selection for the France clash, there was no doubt he needed a big performance at Twickenham.

Smith duly responded, producing a man of the match display against Exeter Chiefs in the 40-5 triumph, an 80 minutes which would have delighted Borthwick.

Kicking off the tee

Everyone eulogises over the fly-half’s attacking brilliance but he is also a very reliable goal-kicker. He showed once again over the weekend his accuracy off the tee, making five out of six conversions – a few of which were out wide and very missable.

Owen Farrell has always taken on the kicking responsibilities when he and Smith have played, partly because that is seen as one of the 31-year-old’s best qualities but also to ease the pressure on the youngster. However, perhaps the Harlequins man needs to feature against France to release the burden on Farrell, who is evidently struggling with aspects of his game?

The issue that the Red Rose have is that the Test centurion is the captain and primary leader, a man held in the highest regard by both coaches and players, and giving the place-kicking duties away would see onlookers ask further questions of the Saracens playmaker. That, for us anyway, wouldn’t be a sign of weakness and Borthwick knows that in Smith he has a player who will be accurate off the tee.

Underplaying his hand

After being dropped and having something to prove, your tendency is to take on too much, trying to produce a highlights reel performance without actually benefiting the team, but to his immense credit Smith did not do that.

Sure, there was a fancy step and break which got away from the first up defence, as well as that piece of genius which led to Cadan Murley’s try, but they were the right decisions at the right time. The key for the modern day fly-half, with defences so well organised, is to pick and choose their moments and that is what the Quins pivot did.

He was continually scanning the Exeter defence, looking at his options and deciding when the right moment was to get his hands on the ball. It is something Smith is doing much better nowadays, at both club and Test level. There was one rash decision against Scotland but he is generally reading the game well and making the right choice.


Smith could have easily finished off that long range try and taken all the glory after receiving the ball from Josh Bassett but the fly-half’s mind wasn’t on impressing Borthwick, it was on doing his job for the team.

It was indicative of the playmaker’s performance. No doubt he would have been fired up for this clash, having played very little against Italy or Wales, but the 24-year-old channelled that in the right way. There is no doubt that Smith is a very confident individual but it very rarely – if ever – strays into arrogance. He is always putting the needs of his side first.

That was evident in his post-match interview with BT Sport. Inevitably the questions about England were asked but there was a humility to his answers. Smith was evidently well aware about not saying anything too much about the international situation, but equally you could sense that he just wanted to play and simply enjoy his rugby. That is a great quality to have and will benefit him in the medium and long-term.

Fronting up

The Quins pivot will never be the world’s greatest defender but you cannot doubt his commitment to the tackle. Exeter constantly tried to exploit his channel on Saturday but Smith stood firm, making 13 hits – the same as Andre Esterhuizen.

While he missed four – just one more than Esterhuizen – he did often have to deal with the powerful Solomone Kata running down his channel. Smith failed to shackle him one time but showed tremendous willingness to get back and scythe the centre down.

The partnership of Farrell, Ollie Lawrence and Henry Slade certainly gives England more defensive solidity but, with Borthwick reportedly considering moving back to the dual playmaker axis at 10 and 12, it suggests the head coach is not happy with the Farrell-Slade combination. With Smith standing up well to the Chiefs’ physicality, he can be more confident in the 24-year-old’s ability to hold his own.

Attitude to being dropped

After rising to prominence in the English game at the age of 18, Smith has not had many setbacks. Yes, it may have taken Eddie Jones longer than expected to have realised his talent and brought him into the England but, once there, he became the first choice pivot.

Since then, they have been good games, mediocre games and the odd poor games, but this is first time his place in the squad is under threat. With George Ford returning from injury – a player who Borthwick knows and trust after their time together at Leicester Tigers – Smith could eventually be ousted from the wider 36-man squad.

It has therefore been a testing time for the young playmaker but he has responded superbly, taking a positive approach and doing his talking on the field. That will appease the head coach, who will respond well to Smith’s hard-working, self-effacing manner.

READ MORE: Harlequins boss Tabai Matson praises Marcus Smith for ‘masterclass’ in Exeter win

The article Marcus Smith: Five key areas from Saturday’s performance which would have impressed England head coach Steve Borthwick appeared first on