Marcus Smith, the next Johnny Wilkinson?
An examinations of 10’s past, present and future.
The Rugby Football Union has made a bold statement of intent by investing £443 Million into English rugby with hopes of firmly establishing the title of “world’s leading rugby nation.” The four-year plan includes World Cup victories in the Men’s 2019 Tournament and Women’s 2021 Tournament, gold medals in for both men and women in Tokyo 2020 and £50 Million investment in the game at community level. The ambition is matched with the organisations strides toward modernity by planning to install 60 RFU-owned artificial pitches by 2019.
With the question of financial stability momentarily silenced in the England camp it is important to now examine the young talent and whether they have demonstrated the desire to meet the RFU’s vaulting ambition.
One such young talent is Marcus Smith who was barely out of the headlines earlier in September. Born in the Philippines but made in Brighton, is Marcus Smith England Rugby’s next world class superstar? Harlequins’ recent bout of high profile injuries, has led to Smith earning a starting place in the team line-up. This opportunity has certainly showcased Smith’s mettle. Smith helped Harlequins to dismantle Wasps in their first meeting of the season. His drive in that game was noted by his teammate, Danny Care, “He ran nearly 10km in Sunday’s game. As far as I know, no one has ever run that far in an 80-minute Premiership game.” (1)
His terrific form and potential has seen him enter into the contest for England’s number 10 spot after Eddie Jones’ included the young starlet in his pre-autumn internationals training camp. However he will have to assert himself in an environment that includes two of Europe’s pre-eminent fly-halves: Owen Farrell and George Ford. Nonetheless, if Marcus Smith can bring more of the attacking flair associated with Dan Carter, this generation’s pin-up for the superstar fly half, he will be set to make history. There is a lot of pressure riding on these young shoulders but so far Smith has managed to meet and surpass every challenge that has been imposed upon him.
In regards to Farrell, while his play time at fly-half has been limited by his ability to play at 12, he must be frustrated that he has not been able to start in his preferred position. Indeed if he is going to be considered in comparison to Johnny Wilkinson, he will need to start in Wilkinson’s old position and achieve more than just his two Six Nations title’s to date. While Farrell has collected more than enough trophies at club level with Saracens, he must have at least one highly influential and successful World Cup performance in his career. Johnny Wilkinson was of course not solely responsible for England’s World Cup win in 2003 but he certainly played a major part, and repeated the herculean effort by helping drag England to the World Cup final in 2007. By way of comparison, Farrell’s tournament at the 2015 World Cup was abysmal. A superstar would have been able to provide at least a moment of magic. But perhaps that’s not Farrell’s game, his skill lies in consistency, a characteristic that seems to be emblematic of Saracens.
The future of England rugby is bright with young talent such as the Curry brothers and Marcus Smith joining the squad in their teens. Maro Itoje is already verging on breaking into superstardom and with his teammate Nick Thompson securing two tries in their recent victory over the Ospreys the future looks bright for English Rugby.
With the money and talent all coalescing at this pivotal time for English Rugby the groundwork has been laid for something very special indeed.