Rugby league legend and former Harlequins assistant coach Sean Long provides an insight into the fly-half
Sean Long on Marcus Smith: “He pulls the strings”
A few years ago I was at a coaching seminar. All sorts of coaches were there – tennis, football, rugby union, rugby league – and one presentation talked about this young lad’s vision, how he was way ahead. Who was it? Marcus Smith.
From then on I followed his progress and when I went down to Harlequins in 2019, a lot of the tens and 12s, like Marcus and James Lang, gravitated to me and started asking questions about stuff I’d done in my career as a player. It was about passing on knowledge.
Marcus is so inquisitive. We’d have a coffee every morning, do individual training and reviews. He is so dedicated to rugby and would be out there for hours after training, working on his kicking and passing. We’d be at work at 6.30am and leave about 5.30pm, and Marcus would still be floating around. He just wants to get better every day.
And he’s so mature for his age. When I moved to Surrey I didn’t know anyone so on days off we’d go for walks and he’d take me to different restaurants. It should have been the other way around – I’m 44! – but he’s just so mature.
I learnt from him too, about game management. I’m from league so you get the ball for six tackles; in union it’s different, so he talked about putting the ball in corners, building pressure. That was brilliant for me and we still have a really good relationship. He rings me quite regularly to talk about different things in the game. He’s a good friend, and is like a sponge.
You can’t coach his vision and instinctiveness, but you can help. It’s things like telling him not to race to a position early, taking his time to get there so the opposition don’t know which way he’s going; you know but they don’t. It’s looking up at the numbers, scanning – they’ve only got four here, so we’ll go this side or the winger’s up so put the ball in the backfield.
I always speak to him about being brave and taking the ball to the line. Rather than pass and slide off, take it to the line. He winds me up now, saying “Take it to the line, Longy” in a northern accent, but I just want him to be brave.
MORE ON MARCUS SMITH
The fly-half helped sparked Harlequins’ revival and is…
For me, his best strength is his running game. Obviously he’s one of the best kickers in the Premiership – the stats tell you that as he won the Golden Boot – but it’s that vision to see who is in front of him, where the tired forward is, and to have a crack. If there’s a big forward, 6ft 7in, you might think, ‘I don’t want to run into him’. But on the flip side, he doesn’t want you to run at him so take him on.
It’s about playing to his strengths. He said he wanted to play like Danny Cipriani but I said he should want to play like Marcus Smith. Danny is a wonderful player, one of the best, and he can do things Marcus can’t do but Marcus can do lots of things Danny can’t do.
Without Marcus, I don’t think Quins would have won the Premiership. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not pinning it on one man. They’ve played a lot more free-flowing rugby since Paul Gustard left but the pack has also been really dominant, winning lineouts and scrums.
Wilco Louw and Joe Marler have been really good, Scott Baldwin too; Steph Lewies has been outstanding. The pack has got them going forward and off the back of that Marcus is pulling the strings.
He’s the captain on the field. Chris Robshaw was captain when I was there but Marcus ran the show. He tells players what he wants, he learns all the lineouts and talks about where to win the ball, what play to run. He’ll sit down with Steph, the lineout caller, and go through everything; he’s got that understanding.
What he’s done in running the team for a few years now is brilliant. Normally tens don’t run a team until their late 20s. I was 24 when I started being able to control a game of league, so to do it at such a young age he will only get better.
This article appears in the August 2021 edition of Rugby World.
Can’t get to the shops? You can download the digital edition of Rugby World straight to your tablet or subscribe to the print edition to get the magazine delivered to your door.
Follow Rugby World on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.