Quins star Smith makes his mark on England debut

It was probably not quite how he envisaged it.

A sunny afternoon kick-off at Twickenham for a full Test debut. Maybe. A sparse crowd of 10,000 rattling around the vast cavern that is HQ. Probably not.

The full houses which make these occasions so special was not possible this time, for obvious reasons. Even so, it would have felt pretty good for fly-half Marcus Smith to make his eagerly-awaited full England debut against the USA on the Fourth of July.

Scrub that. It would have felt amazing, as he crowned a fine match with a try after 65 minutes, scurrying over from close-range after being fed by scrum-half Harry Randall.

He missed three conversions but potted four others to claim 13 points and stayed on field for the whole 80 minutes.

This is a player who appeared destined for this stage the moment he first pitched up at the Stoop in Harlequins colours: A man possessed with the ideal temperament for such challenges – a cool head and a very reliable boot.

He did play for his country against the Barbarians two years ago in June 2019, contributing 26 points in a man of the match performance, but caps were not awarded then after that 51-43 victory.

This was the real thing though, even if a seven-try rampage against less-than-daunting opponents was not the worst baptism he could have had.

And it did not take too long for Smith to look at ease in his new surroundings. He was soon involved, setting the backs in motion, and floating a perfect kick out to the left wing to set up England’s first try of the afternoon after the visitors had had the impertinence to take the lead with a long-range penalty.

The Quins man missed the conversion but scored his first points on 16 minutes from more or less the same position out wide after Ollie Lawrence had added a try in the same corner from which Sam Underhill had scored the first.

Yet even more adrenaline-inducing was the moment when he showed great composure to side-step the onrushing USA full-back before finding touch with a perfect kick.

The roars of appreciation from the Twickenham faithful for that piece of skill under pressure would have made the 5ft 7in debutant feel 10ft tall. He will have felt he belongs.

He added more extras from out on the right touchline after try number three from Joe Cokanasiga – do all kicks have to be from an angle, he must have been thinking – and any nerves there might have been at the outset were well and truly gone.

His offload gave Cokanasiga a second try and another conversion gave him six points before the end of the first half but his happiest moment was still to come, a try under the north stand.

Given the way the season ended for Quins with a first Premiership title since 2012, this has been a heady summer for the Filipino-born 22-year-old, who has now made over 100 appearances for Quins since his debut in September 2017.

He bagged eight points in last month’s Premiership final against Exeter as Quins secured their first top-flight title since 2012 with a thrilling 40-38 victory. It turns out, there was still more to come this season.

Smith, who has previously turned out for England U20s, was one of eight uncapped players in Sunday’s clash, as 11 England internationals are away in South Africa on Lions duty.

Eddie Jones said it was a chance for players ‘to make their mark with England’ with just two years to go until the next World Cup.

Smith is clearly one of those players in with a chance to be involved. “He’s a good little player,” Jones observed. “He takes the ball to the line, he has good pass selection, good running skills. He is a tough little guy who has definitely got potential.”

Nothing he saw on Sunday would have changed his mind about that glowing appraisal.

Two other Quins players could stake claims in the coming months. Centre Joe Marchant and number eight Alex Dombrandt were not included in the squad but both could feature in next Saturday’s follow-up Test against Canada.

Dombrandt scored two tries in that same Barbarians match Smith played in, but has also yet to win a cap. Marchant, who like his forwards team-mate at Quins is 24, earned the first of four England caps in a pre-World Cup Test against Wales in August 2019 and he scored a try in another warm-up match against Italy at St James’ Park.

He was not selected for the squad which travelled to Japan for the tournament but made another appearance against Georgia in last year’s Autumn Nations Cup.