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
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