Quins star Smith again shows his value to England

Marcus Smith once again found himself front and centre of an Test match as he kept his cool to land two late conversions to salvage an unlikely draw against New Zealand – but ended the match with some boos ringing in his ears.

England looked dead and buried in Saturday’s clash with the All Blacks. Leaking two early tries, they entered the final 10 minutes trailing 25-6 and did not look to have a prayer.

But Smith sparked an incredible comeback with a darting run which set up a try for substitute prop Will Stuart, and although the Quins fly-half missed the conversion, his nerve held with an angled kick from out wide after a try from Freddie Steward, before potting another at the death after a second last-gasp try from Stuart.

It was an astonishing recovery, albeit against 14 men because Beauden Barrett had been yellow carded for illegally trying to stop the first of those three match-saving tries when he did not release Smith in that first charge to the line.

To most fans, this was a draw that felt like a win – a great escape after the hosts had been very much second best to an All Blacks side hell-bent on gaining revenge for the World Cup semi-final defeat to England in Yokohama in 2019.

And yet, when Smith received the ball deep in his own territory from the kick-off after the leveller, his decision to kick the ball straight out incredibly drew some exasperated boos from some of the 81,000 crowd.

Ian Foster, the New Zealand coach said: “If you flipped it around, I would have liked our guys to have a crack. I’m not sure what their tactics were.”

But Smith was surely right to settle for the draw. it would have been easy to get carried away and risk spilling possession or conceding a penalty – French ref Mathieu Raynal had already penalised the hosts several times when they had broken down in possession. Why throw away that amazing fightback?

England coach Eddie Jones said: “We stayed in the fight. It’s always up to the players. I trust their decision-making. I’m not on the field.”

Skipper Owen Farrell said: “We just wanted to see where we were off the ruck. If we got go-forward, got on the front foot and had an opportunity [to win it] then we wanted to take it and if not, we wanted to make a good decision and I think that’s what was done.”

Farrell earned his 100th cap in the match – only the third England player to do so. Smith collected his 16th and again showed he has the temperament for the most intense of Test matches. He now has 156 points in internationals, having bagged seven more this time.

As the only Harlequins player currently in the fold, fans at the Stoop have good reason to feel proud of their impressive flag-bearer.