By Neale Harvey
Marcus Smith’s game-management in the face of blitz defence will be one of the defining factors in whether he makes the transition from teenage protégé to seasoned international, according to Harlequins backs coach Nick Evans.
Smith, 18, has been the find of the season after stepping into the breach at Quins in the absence injured playmakers Demetri Catrakilis and Tim Swiel, as well as earning ‘apprentice’ status in Eddie Jones’s wider England Test squad.
Despite the youngster’s rave reviews, however, Quins legend Evans told The Rugby Paper: “The hardest thing for him is the whole management side of things.
“He’s come from an Under 18s programme where he’s been able to boss things from the middle of the field, where either he or someone else has been able to make a break quite easily.
“But you don’t really get that in the Premiership because defences are so much better, so the field management becomes that much more important.
“Play calling is probably something he hasn’t had much experience of – understanding defences, when to kick, when not to kick – so all that’s pretty new to him.”
Evans added: “Teams will target him and look to rough him up, but that’s all part of being a fly-half and he’s got a very cool head on his shoulders.
“We’ve told him to expect it and have come up with some solutions for when it happens, but he’s learning and playing well, which is great.”
Evans reveals how concerns over Smith’s heavy workload have been addressed by the club. He explained: “Marcus can’t play 25-30 games a season, so over the last few weeks we’ve been stripping his workload right back.
“You must remember that he’s got the body of a 17 or 18-year-old so he’s got a lot of growing to do to get used to the physical workload of training, weights and nutrition. It’s not just the playing side that makes big demands of you.
“Hopefully, we’ll get Demetri back by the end of this month and James Lang has come in and done well. But it’s been a fantastic opportunity for Marcus, we’re just being careful we don’t flood him with too much information.”
Evans, meanwhile, insists he has had no second thoughts over retirement despite Quins’ fly-half crisis. He said: “It was time for me to retire. I had nothing left to prove and, most importantly, I was able to retire on my own terms.
“Mentally, that puts you in a good place to throw yourself into coaching without regrets and attacking-wise we’ve gone well. If we can just tighten up defensively and be more abrasive in the tackle, we’ll be a good side.”
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