Ford warns Smith he will be ‘re­lent­lessly tar­geted’ ev­ery game he plays

Eng­land’s fly-half has been help­ing his young ri­val feel at home in the na­tional set-up, he tells Gavin Mairs

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Sport | Rugby Union -

Mar­cus Smith, the 18-year-old Har­lequins fly-half who has been tipped to play his way into Eng­land’s 2019 World Cup squad, has been warned he faces a decade of big hits and will be “re­lent­lessly tar­geted” dur­ing his ca­reer.

Smith has been iden­ti­fied by Eng­land head coach Ed­die Jones as a player with the po­ten­tial to bring an X-fac­tor in his squad, but the Mani­laborn Brighton prodigy has al­ready been taken off for pre­cau­tion­ary rea­sons in two of his first three games since mak­ing his Pre­mier­ship de­but last month.

Ge­orge Ford, the in­cum­bent Eng­land fly-half, has so far played a sig­nif­i­cant role in help­ing Smith in­te­grate into the squad after he was named in the 33-man party for a three-day train­ing camp in Ox­ford last week.

Ford in­sists he is relishing the com­pe­ti­tion that Smith could pose for World Cup places but warned the diminu­tive star­let to ex­pect a rig­or­ous phys­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tion in ev­ery game he plays.

Ford, who him­self is a reg­u­lar tar­get for op­po­si­tion de­fend­ers, is­sued the warn­ing to Smith after Le­ices­ter Tigers’ vic­tory over Har­lequins last week­end, when he re­ceived a number of heavy tack­les in­clud­ing one from Eng­land prop Dan Cole.

“I said to him after the game, ‘Even in 10 years’ time you will be tak­ing those hits’ – and it is not just be­cause he is 18,” Ford said.

“Teams tar­get 10s re­lent­lessly ev­ery game be­cause if you get to a 10 and af­fect his game, it will also af­fect the team’s game.

“So it just part and par­cel of what be­ing a 10 is, I sup­pose, these days. He gets up and he car­ries on and he is tough so he will have no wor­ries about that.”

Jones in­sisted ahead of last week’s camp that Smith would spend most of the time pol­ish­ing Ford’s boots but the Le­ices­ter fly-half in­sisted he pre­ferred to help his po­ten­tial ri­val and wel­comed his emer­gence as “great for Eng­land.”

“I pol­ished them my­self mate. Trust me, I wouldn’t make him do that,” Ford said. “He is a tal­ented lad. He is great in terms of hav­ing his feet on the ground.

“He has got a good head on him and he is great to have around.

“He has come in and he is just like any other lad. He is mix­ing in and there is nothing dif­fer­ent. He is part of the squad and we are all en­joy­ing hav­ing him here.

“You can be quite anx­ious [when you first come into the Eng­land camp]. It is a big thing, and the one thing that I can re­mem­ber is the guys who helped me come in and set­tle down and put an arm around me.

“They helped me in terms of the off-the-field stuff so that when you go on the field you un­der­stand what is going on, you un­der­stand the plays and the calls. That has al­ways stuck with me.

“I tried to keep those ex­pe­ri­ences and mem­o­ries and try to help Mar­cus in the same way.

“I have sat down with him and gone through ev­ery­thing, and even when we are not in camp I have mes­saged him and see how he is do­ing and wish him good luck in his games be­cause ul­ti­mately we are all work­ing to­gether to­wards one goal and when we come into camp ev­ery­one needs to be up to speed to do that.”

Ford re­vealed that he has been in reg­u­lar con­tact with Smith since he made his de­but for Quins after he was first in­volved in an Eng­land camp in London in Au­gust.

“I just told him to be him­self,” Ford said. “When you come into these en­vi­ron­ments, some­times you can be anx­ious or taken back by it. But the rea­son he is here is be­cause he has played the way he has and been the way he has.

“For him to come in and to carry that on would not be the right thing to do. I texted him be­fore he made his Pre­mier­ship de­but and said, ‘Make sure you en­joy it and be your­self be­cause that is why you are the player you are’.

“I think you can lose sight of that some­times. There is so much other stuff going on, you are fo­cus­ing on the op­po­si­tion, you are analysing the op­po­si­tion, you are fo­cus­ing on get­ting the team in the right spots as a 10, and some­times you just need to sit back and think, ‘I need to en­joy this my­self and try to be my­self and try to play well my­self ’.

“It is important that you don’t lose sight of that.”

As for the ex­tra com­pe­ti­tion Smith might pose for the fly-half po­si­tion, Ford added: “I think it is great for Eng­land, I hon­estly do.

“What it shows is that there are young English play­ers are de­vel­op­ing who are get­ting shots in the Pre­mier­ship who are going to be good enough to be in the Eng­land squad, what­ever po­si­tion that is.

“It keeps lads on their toes, it re­ally does, younger lads com­ing in and play­ing well and train­ing well, im­press­ing.

“You have got to keep im­prov­ing as a player your­self otherwise you will stand still and get caught – you are ul­ti­mately going to lose your spot.

“That is what you want. You want that sort of en­vi­ron­ment, that com­pe­ti­tion for places that brings the best out of peo­ple.”

‘Teams tar­get No 10s be­cause if you get to a 10 and af­fect his game, it will also af­fect the team’

Marked man: Mar­cus Smith is dou­ble-teamed by Le­ices­ter last week­end; he re­ceived a number of heavy tack­les dur­ing the game

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