Their form has propelled Quins into the Premiership play-offs and here they tell Rugby World what makes them tick
Meet Harlequins half-backs Danny Care and Marcus Smith
Danny Care remembers his first training session with Marcus Smith at Harlequins. Smith was in his last year at school but already there was something that marked him out as a future star.
“What stuck out most is that he was screaming for the ball,” recalls Care. “He was telling people where he wanted the ball, where he wanted them to run. I was a bit blown away by him and excited for him to finish school so he could get out there with us.”
The pair may be at opposite ends of the career spectrum, but they have developed an electrifying half-back partnership. Their recent form has helped spark a turnaround in Quins’ fortunes since Paul Gustard’s departure at the start of the year and they have reached the Gallagher Premiership play-offs for the first time in seven years.
Here they talk hair, hopes and having fun…
Who has the best hair?
Danny Care: Him! I’ve had to pay for some of mine and it’s still nowhere near what I’d like it to be. When I look at Marcus, the one thing I’d take is his goosestep and then I’d take his hair. He’s got really girthy hair, it’s thick. It’s what you can only dream of having.
Marcus, if you could take anything from Danny what would it be?
Marcus Smith: I’d take his beard; I’ve never been able to grow facial hair.
And I’d take his chat probably.
How do you get on off the pitch?
DC: We bounce off each other really well. I see a bit of myself in Marcus. He’s a young lad who has come to London and plays with a smile on his face, which is something I’ve always tried to do, and enjoys himself off the field, which I think is key to having a good balance in life.
He doesn’t take himself too seriously, but from day one he’s led this team unbelievably well. On the pitch he’s serious and off the field we can have a laugh and enjoy each other’s company.
MS: Ever since I’ve stepped into the club, he’s looked after me, along with the other older players. Deece, being so close to me in the back-line, always encourages me to back myself. Growing up, watching him play, he always played with a smile on his face and that’s how I get the best out of myself.
Did you find it easy to form that half-back relationship?
DC: He came in with so much pressure on him early doors. As an 18-year-old with the two senior fly-halves injured, he got the opportunity probably quicker than he thought.
What he’s done in a short space of time, I can’t stress how amazing it is. Young lads normally come in on the wing and play a few games but it is different to come in and be asked to lead a team fresh out of nappies as he was. The way he’s taken it in his stride is testament to him as a person.
He’s very level-headed, always eager to learn… 100 games in three years is ridiculous, to play that many times in the ten shirt for one of the best clubs in England. The world is this lad’s oyster.
MS: I’m still young, still learning. Deece has always helped me when I need advice off the field or on dealing with coaches. More than that, we get on a lot better off the field as I’ve got older. He always looks after me when we go out. Our connection off the field has improved massively and that’s down to him making me feel so comfortable.
How important is that understanding between you on the pitch?
DC: It’s huge. We’re definitely on a very similar wavelength of how we see the game, how we feel the game should be played, especially to suit the players we’ve got in this team.
I know when he wants the ball because he’s loud and that’s the first thing you notice in a young lad, whether they’re loud; it shows that they’re confident and know what they’re doing. He got instant respect from the senior lads by leading the team and bossing the team.
We have fun, that’s our main thing. I just say to him to be himself because what he’s got is special, not many people have got that, and I try to get him to show that. On the pitch, I try to take a bit of pressure off him to allow him to play his natural game because his natural game is better than anyone else’s I’ve seen in the Premiership.
MS: Deece takes a lot of pressure off me. A big thing I’ve been working on is my game management and it doesn’t always come naturally to me.
A few years ago at school it was ‘run it from everywhere and see what happens’. In my first game for Quins I don’t think I kicked at all in 70 minutes, now I think maybe I kick too much! It’s probably not the first thing Deece wants to do but unselfishly he takes that pressure off me, which allows me to express myself.
As well as that, we have similar ideas and talk a lot off the pitch about rugby and situations. The way he drives the team and the way he delivers messages in the week, I try to echo. We have a similar style of play and a style that suits our players.
Do you have input into how the team approach a game?
MS: I’d say we’ve got more of an input now than we used to. The coaches have been very receptive to the way we want to play and I think a lot of that is down to the way Danny orchestrates with the forwards.
The forwards have been brilliant for the last few months, which makes it a lot easier for me to play if defences are preoccupied with the nine and forwards.
DC: As Marcus says, the coaches have been brilliant in how receptive they’ve been and what we’ve done in training has translated onto the pitch. There’s been a massive focus on getting the ball in our hands and getting the forwards comfortable with the ball and linking the play. The set-piece has been brilliant; we couldn’t do our stuff without that.
Then it’s about giving him the ball in space and leaving him to it because we’ve got some of the best finishers in the league.
Is that input with the coaches what sparked the turnaround mid-season?
DC: A few things aligned at the right time. The weather is better so the ball is drier and the pitches are firm, so we can show what we can do. The first six or seven games of the season were played in awful conditions.
Then in the Six Nations we only lost Scott Steele and James Lang. Joe Marler not going away with England was massive because, for me, he’s been our best player consistently for the last few months; he’s been unbelievable. What he gives the group is different to anyone else.
Then there’s the change in training, the way we try to play is more suitable to the players we’ve got… Everything has come together at the right time.
We’re not foolish; we know we played against understrength teams during the Six Nations. We’ve still got a lot of work to do but that’s exciting; we know we’re only really scratching the surface.
MS: Everyone who steps into the Quins building wants to win and put Quins where we feel they belong.
Is the potential at the club the reason you have both re-signed?
DC: We’re probably at different ends of the spectrum. I never looked anywhere else. There was a time when things haven’t been great the past few seasons but with the likes of Marcus sticking around, Alex Dombrandt, Joe Marchant, Louis Lynagh, those types of people, this club has good things coming to it.
For me, I don’t know whether I’ll be there to see it all and live it all, but I’d like to help the team realise its potential and put it on the right path to have a really successful next five, ten, 15 years.
MS: I had a good chat with some of the coaches and some senior players about the club’s direction. The vision the club sold me and the excitement I had with the young group we have here made it a very easy decision.
I’ve come through with a lot of guys who are now playing in the first team, which is massively exciting, and as Danny says, we’re only scratching the surface. We’ve got a lot of exploring to do to see how good we can be, but based on my experience in the academy league I think we’ve got some of the best youngsters in England and we’re very lucky to represent such a prestigious club.
What was the vision you were sold on?
MS: Having successful years, not just winning one title but winning for a long time. I genuinely believe with the players we have, we’re in a very good position. If we can sprinkle that with some magic, we have the makings of a very good team.
The style we’re trying to play now is just the beginning and if we can put that type of game on the park and execute to the best of our ability, I don’t think there are many teams who can live with us. That’s the most exciting thing.
Does the young guys’ enthusiasm rub off on you, Danny?
DC: You always get a lift from the young boys, their youthful exuberance. I like to think I’m still a big kid at heart, I like to have a laugh whenever I can. It’s so key to get that blend and that balance right, of older heads and youthful exuberance.
Us older boys need stories from the weekend, we need lads to have done stupid stuff. Rugby is a brilliant sport but it can be really tough at times, so you need to have a lot of fun as well. It’s been really hard with lockdown, but we’ve tried to find little ways of doing it.
What’s the best advice Danny’s given?
MS: Don’t take life too seriously. When I first joined, I had a perception that I had to be on the straight and narrow all the time. There’s a time and place to do that, and I do take my rugby very seriously and it’s a priority in my life.
However, Deece has taught me how to have fun and to do it whilst playing good rugby. I play my best rugby when I’m happy off the field, when my family are happy. So if I’m happy, it helps me perform to my best.
DC: Something all my best coaches have said is, ‘Don’t think just do, back your first instincts’. This guy is the best attacking fly-half in the league; he’s got everything to go to the very top.
I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before he’s given an opportunity to wear a white shirt and no one will be more proud – actually his mum and dad will probably be more proud – but it would mean an awful lot to me to see him wearing that No 10 shirt for England. It’s just whether the world is ready to see the magic.
MS: Danny is playing some of his best rugby. In my second season he was unbelievable but I think he’s gone to a new level. He’s assisting tries for fun, he’s kicking us into good positions, his running game… Even his drop-goals are the best in England!
This article originally appeared in the June 2021 edition of Rugby World magazine.
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