Marcus Smith insists sport must offer a distraction to cost of living crisis

Marcus Smith - Marcus Smith insists sport must offer a distraction to cost of living crisis - CameraSport
Marcus Smith - Marcus Smith insists sport must offer a distraction to cost of living crisis - CameraSport

England fly-half Marcus Smith believes Harlequins’ reputation as the great entertainers of Premiership Rugby means his side have a duty to provide a distraction from the financial crisis gripping both the sport and the nation.

The London club are often mistaken for showing a care-free attitude towards matches, with last Sunday’s 43-42 defeat by Exeter Chiefs – after trailing 24-0 barely halfway through the first-half – an example of their ability to produce the dire, sublime and absurd all within one performance.

But, Smith explained this week, that drive to entertain now comes with an extra weight, with the England international conscious that the thousands watching either in the stands or on their sofas on the whole use sport as a distraction from rising mortgage rates and energy bills. And that's before rugby's own financial plight, with Worcester in administration and ticket sales struggling, is taken into account.

"I feel very responsible. Ultimately we are the patrons for the game at the minute. I guess the flashlight is shining on us and it’s our job to entertain and put on a show for the people who come and support," admits Smith. "The least we can do is work hard, try our best, and do it with a smile on our face.

"More importantly, you have to enjoy yourself while it’s here. It’s not going to last forever and it’s our role as players today to lift the profile and inspire the new youngsters in this country, both men and women. Hopefully we can build the game and lift it to a new level.

"Even just on a small scale what we do at Quins with the Big Game and Big Summer Kick-Off, trying to do things that don't just appeal to rugby fans or families, almost a day out. You can encourage people from different ways of life to enjoy the spectacle, because obviously it's a show.

"We're entertainers at the end of the day, and whatever it is – a music artist, DJ, motocross bikes outside – you'll encourage more people to come, not just people who love their rugby but who love a good day out and want to get out the house.

"Ultimately you want everyone to be getting out of the house and enjoying themselves, post-Christmas and in the summer especially.

"If I'm asked [for my views] I'll always be open. It's not something I solely focus on in my mind, but I know I have a responsibility that if ever I'm able to influence anything I'll speak my mind and try and lift the game because I think it will only benefit everyone."

Marcus Smith at Exeter - Marcus Smith insists sport must offer a distraction to cost of living crisis - PA
Marcus Smith at Exeter - Marcus Smith insists sport must offer a distraction to cost of living crisis - PA

It's worth remembering at this point that Smith, willing to drive the game forward however he can, is only 23-years-old. He sits on the cusp of stardom, if not there already, with a recent feature in GQ highlighting his popularity beyond rugby union. You sense that the days of him being able to go about his business back home in Brighton during the summer are dwindling.

"[The attention] has increased over the last few years but if you told me when I was 15 it would happen, I'd rather that and be playing and reaching my goals. It's something that's naturally going to happen and it's good to see rugby being pushed out on a global level and not just in England.

"It's brilliant for us players. It doesn't really distract me. It's nice once in a while but it's also nice being able to have a coffee with my mum on the seafront."

Against Exeter last Sunday it hardly looked as though Smith had been off for over two months. Three weeks spent in Los Angeles over the summer seeing family coincided with working on his "explosive power and speed training" with a coach.

But magazine features should not be interpreted as Smith being distracted from his priority, he insists.

"My mum and dad just tell me to make sure the main thing stays the main thing, so does my support group.

"Ultimately I am a rugby player and I have got to perform and the minute that gets jeopardised by anything, other things have to stop. I know that and my family will be the first people to tell me that.

"That has been instilled into me by my family but I love the game of rugby, I love playing every weekend, I love training and all the other stuff are extra perks and bonuses you get on the back of hopefully playing well."

Hitting top form is certainly something England will need from Smith this time next year in France at the Rugby World Cup. England's attack remains a work in progress - at least compared to the gusto Harlequins regularly display – with Smith admitting that one priority is to "drive that attack, especially to a new level", starting with the fast approaching autumn Tests.

Marcus Smith with England head coach Eddie Jones - Marcus Smith insists sport must offer a distraction to cost of living crisis - GETTY IMAGES
Marcus Smith with England head coach Eddie Jones - Marcus Smith insists sport must offer a distraction to cost of living crisis - GETTY IMAGES

"If we can unleash some of the players we’ve got in this country then we’ll be very tough to stop," Smith explains. "It’s something we’re working towards, trying our best to work out and adapt along the way. To do that you need variation and deception. We’re trying to find ways to do that as well."

Smith watched one moment in the Rugby Championship with particular interest; Mathieu Raynal's decision to penalise Bernard Foley for time-wasting when lining up a kick to touch.

Smith is wary that a precedent may have been set, but also conscious that ball-in-play time, which averages around 35 minutes per match at present, has to improve. "If we're talking about selling the product and making the product better to watch and more accessible then if you lift that to 50, ultimately there's going to be more exciting things that happen."

There's an element of intrigue too with how Smith plays for his club compared to his country. "I think his role is completely different from ours," notes Harlequins' head coach Tabai Matson.

"That's the challenge and that's where you grow to become a world-class player. Because you're learning that there are lots of different ways to succeed in rugby. And so learning how to be successful in two different environments and playing two different roles... he's 23? Ridiculous! Ridiculous.”

For a young man with a lot on his plate, on the verge of becoming a household name beyond rugby, Smith is handling it all rather well.

Tickets for Harlequins against Northampton are available here.