Marcus Smith is a glass-half-full kind of character, so while England’s rookie fly-half was ‘gutted’ by the way his first Six Nations campaign fell flat, he is adamant that better times lie ahead – soon.
The 23-year-old is back on duty at Harlequins and after guiding them to a Premiership victory over London Irish in Brentford last Sunday, he is gearing up for a trip to France to take on mighty Montpellier. There is a Double to aim for and that is Smith’s personal focus now.
But he has just emerged from a significant career experience; a first championship with England, having emerged last autumn as the country’s pre-eminent No 10. Eddie Jones’ side went into the Six Nations with grand ambitions only to fall at the first hurdle up in Scotland and wind up third in the table, after repeating the 2021 return of three defeats from five games.
Marcus Smith is remaining positive despite England’s poor recent showing at the Six Nations
Asked to reflect on the tournament, Smith said: ‘It was an unbelievable experience with brilliant boys. I learned a lot about myself personally – about my mentality – from playing in high-pressure environments like away at Murrayfield and away in France. They were both tough places to go.
‘You get a lot of stick as an Englishman at Murrayfield. I didn’t realise. Maybe I was a bit naïve going up there and thinking it would be plain sailing. It was a tough Test match. I learned about how to control myself in big, pressure moments, which I will try to bring back here, hopefully for knock-out games with Harlequins.’
It was two months ago, but Smith hadn’t spoken about being replaced by George Ford in Edinburgh after guiding England into the lead, only to see the Scots snatch victory with a dramatic final-quarter fightback. ‘When I got taken off it was 17-10, so as a team we were in a brilliant position,’ he said.
‘It was nothing to do with me or any of the other players. It was a management decision. As a team, we back the coaches. The boys gave it their all for the last 15 minutes and I was shouting from the crowd. Did it hurt me being taken off? No.’
Smith is switching his focus purely to Harlequins duty after the disappointing third-place finish
The 23-year-old’s first Six Nations campaign ultimately ended in disappointment last month
But he still insists the overall experience was ‘unbelievable’ and one he ‘learned a lot’ in
His instinct is to remain positive, but Smith is also highly competitive. Losing hurts him, so to have that happen against Scotland, Ireland and France did not leave a pleasant taste. ‘If we’re honest, we’re gutted that we came third,’ he said. ‘It’s always frustrating to lose. No-one goes on the field to lose, but I’ve learned a lot.’
There was much criticism of England’s miss-firing attack – which created just three tries outside of the Italy game – and as the man charged with igniting it, Smith was asked if he took that criticism personally. ‘Obviously, I was playing fly-half in the games,’ he said. ‘I tried my best, as we all did.
‘We were close, in parts. At 70 minutes in most games, we were there or thereabouts. I guess we are always looking for that perfect game and we probably didn’t get that. But we learned a lot. On our review day, post-France, we had loads of different ideas.
‘I’m sure whoever gets selected to go to Australia will be much better equipped to go there and do the job. Eddie (Jones) told all of us to work on coming back – if selected – two or three per cent better. Ultimately, if we as individuals come back a little bit better, we’ll be better as a team.’
For now Smith’s sole focus is on helping Harlequins in their bid to clinch a Double this season
For now, Smith has put aside thoughts of an England revival mission. He is concentrating solely on the task at hand; helping Harlequins return to the heights of last season, when their late surge up the table took them all the way to the Premiership title. They are well placed for the league play-offs again and now they have designs on making their presence felt in the European Champions Cup too.
Smith declared himself ‘re-energised’ after a week’s holiday in Dubai and said: ‘I love playing for this brilliant club. We’ve got a lot of work to do this season. I love winning. All of us are ambitious – we want to do something that not many teams have done, by winning back-to-back (titles). We’ll give it our best shot. Last year, no-one gave us a chance, and I don’t feel people give us a chance this year. We don’t want to just take part, we want to win silverware. It starts next weekend.’
Assessing the daunting fixture that awaits Quins on Sunday, Smith added: ‘Montpellier are top of the Top 14. They’re flying high. They’ve got a big forward pack and Zach Mercer is running the show down there. We’re excited for the challenge. We’ll try to take them out of their comfort zone, and throw something at them they haven’t seen before.’