Quins star Smith continues to defy logic at international level

It will be tough to leave him out of the starting XV now.

Marcus Smith seems to defy all logic when it comes to his progress in Test rugby. Where are the nerves? Where is the self-doubt he would be entitled to feel once in a while?

There he was, in the 79th minute, entrusted with the most important kick of his international career. Land it and England would avenge the 2019 World Cup defeat to South Africa. Miss it and all the hard work after a gruelling 80 minutes would be for nothing.

All that responsibility. His team-mates. The majority of the 82,000 in the stadium. The countless number watching on TV. If such thoughts crossed his mind, the Harlequins fly-half did not show it.

“I did think I’d better not miss this,” he said immediately afterwards in a way that did not suggest he found the pressure intolerable.

With the first-choice kicker Owen Farrell absent in Saturday’s showdown with the Boks at Twickenham – sidelined by an ankle injury which may keep him out of next year’s Six Nations – Smith is the man of the moment. And for the big moments. Eddie Jones knows he can trust him.

Across the road at the Stoop, they will have been bursting with pride as Smith’s kick secured a famous 27-26 victory.

But it was not just that clinching moment which showed the Quins playmaker belongs. From the off he was displaying the kind of vision and awareness which the best Test playing nations need.

Early on, he picked out club team-mate Joe Marchant – earning his seventh cap to Smith’s fifth – with a flighted crosskick to the right wing. It had the crowd instantly on its feet and believing there were tries in this team. Even against the meanest, most imposing of defences.

He was involved in the opening try for Manu Tuilagi – his pass to Henry Slade been slipped on to the scorer – and he calmly bisected the posts with two conversions after the opening two England tries – one on each side of the pitch and so near the touchline that the angles seemed prohibitive.

He put away a penalty to keep the scoreboard ticking nicely during that especially fine opening 40 minutes for the hosts.

And when the much-vaunted South African ‘Bomb Squad’ launched its all-out assault to pin back England for long spells in the second half, he was doing his bit to earn breathing space for those around him: Seeking out runners with longer, pressure-relieving passes. Making fine decisions about when to look for territorial gains with kicks from hand.

He it was too, who earned the decisive last-gasp penalty after being on the receiving end of Francois Steyn’s knee as he lay on the ground.

Marchant too played his part. England came under colossal pressure as they tried to hold onto a half-time lead but they carried the greater capacity to find the tryline and after bursting away following a Slade pass, Marchant timed his off load left perfectly to sub Raffi Quirke for the vital third home try.

It had not been the easiest of starts for the Quins back, who was given the wing detail. But in the event, he moved back into the centre after an early injury to Tuilagi and looked more at home.

He was also involved in a key moment in the game as Boks skipper Siya Kolisi was sin-binned in the 76th minute for taking out Marchant in the air.

Completing a quartet of west London representation, Joe Marler took to the field to earn his 74th cap and seemed to relish getting stuck into the famed Boks front row, while Alex Dombrandt earned his fourth cap off the bench.

Dombrandt gave away one of the 18 penalties conceded by Jones’ men which presented three points to the World Champions at a time when they really had their tails up. But ultimately, it was not to prove damaging.

All in all, Saturday was a day to savour for England. And those Quins stars who took part. They will all feel they have a significant part to play in the build-up to the next World Cup in France two years hence.