Marcus Smith: The new Danny Cipriani?

Taking a look at, Rugby Union player, Marcus Smith's career.

Billy Roberts
10th November 2021
Image: Wikimedia Commons
To be a Harlequins fan from the end of the 2020/21 season leading on into this season must be a fantastic feeling. Champagne rugby, a league title, and tries galore; however, an even better feeling might stem from a certain 22 year-old superstar fly-half, Marcus Smith.

Spearheading an exceptional second half to Harlequins’ season, Smith charges them on to their first title in nine years, (and THAT semi- final game against Bristol). It is hard to deny his incredible abilities as a rugby player! Despite his fluid and effortless attacking ‘joué' rugby, older England fans might draw allusions to a certain player that tracked a similar route Smith had done by his age: Danny Cipriani.

To many this name represents an unfulfilled potential, and to others, he is the man that provides moments of pure genius that even rugby’s purists will stand back in amazement. At the age of 33, he only had 16 England caps to his name. I will highlight a number of reasons why I believe this is the case.

Twitter: @MarcusSmith10

It is hard to deny his incredible abilities as a rugby player!

Firstly, off field problems. Cipriani started his career with an exceptional individual performance (on his debut) against Ireland in 2008. Many claimed that going forward he should be the new number 10, yet an early major injury to his leg left him on the sidelines for the remaining part of 2008.

Also, his England career never truly got going afterwards - although not due to his on-field performances. In 2013, Cipriani was infamously hit by a bus during a night out in Leeds. While not his fault, a string of continuous ‘bad behaviour’ incidents have plagued his career. As an extremely gifted player, he was on the end of continuous bad publicity, which I believe plays a part in why he saw a restricted number of England caps.

England’s captain Owen Farrell praising Smith for being a diligent "student of the game"

While this may not apply to Smith, as he is a diligent "student of the game", Cipriani’s experiences show that even with excessive talent (which both Smith and Cipriani have displayed), the off-field is just as important as the things you do on it.

The second part of my argument revolves around Owen Farrell. Whilst being one of the most divisive players in the Premiership, he provides an interesting argument for both Cipriani and Smith. Hated by some but lauded by others, many agree the traits of Farrell are his extreme consistency; his excellent kicking; his absolute professionalism and leadership skills; and his hardened defensive game. The question I pose is “who wouldn’t any coach have him in a team?”.

While he has had his small incidents on field (most of relating to his tendency to shoulder charge opponents), he epitomises everything England has become since their 2003 World Cup campaign and their turn towards professionalism: ruthless efficiency to a system. What Farrell lacks in creativity, he makes up for in game management to make sure whatever side he is on (England or Saracens) are dictating the game on their terms.

Twitter: @theonlycamps

Meanwhile, Smith is a different character as he relies on moments of individual brilliance to transform a game. For England it would make sense to pick the player that can best perform to a system, because they cannot guarantee Cipriani or Smith ‘showing up’ with said moments of quality.

Cipriani (and Smith is at risk of this) represents a ‘Maverick 10’, willing to take risks to achieve a win; potential risks that England might deem as too excessive. Who doesn't love a good Top Gun reference? Anyway... while Smith may avoid the off-field problems that Cipriani fell short on, his natural ability to change a game on an individual level maybe holding him back from representing England.

His “face does not fit” the England picture.

Eddie Jones’ appointment as England coach in 2016 emphasised the virtues of creating a team environment where everyone off-field and on-field have a role and responsibility in the squad - an idea that can be seen in England’s World Cup final run in 2019. To Eddie Jones' team (and England in general), there might be a priority in getting the right balance, rather than relying on the individual.

With Farrell now approaching his twilight years with England (as he turns 30 next year), time can only tell whether Smith can achieve the best of both worlds: retaining his Maverick nature, whilst also being able to convert himself into a fly-half that can follow a system and follow on from where Owen Farrell left off.

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