Marcus Smith has revealed the Six Nations was a shock to his system but he learned some lessons about life at the top despite England’s desperate showing.
The tournament where Eddie Jones’ side won just two out of five games proved to be the first road block the Harlequins fly-half has encountered in a meteoric rise to the top.
Last year he won the Premiership with Quins, was parachuted into the British & Irish Lions squad in South Africa and won three out of three in the autumn with England.
So far so good, until England were beaten 20-17 by Scotland in Edinburgh in their Six Nations opener, with Smith replaced after 63 minutes. They then beat Italy and scraped past Wales whilst being defeated by Ireland and France.
England managed just eight tries in those five games, with five coming in the 33-0 win in Rome, and their attack, with Smith at 10 the ringmaster, came under fire.
And Smith was shocked by the reception he got at some of the away grounds, which is something he had better get used to.
But the 23 year-old has held his hands up saying he picked up knowledge to take forward to the summer tour to Australia and next year’s World Cup in France.
“First and foremost I learned about my mentality going to these places,” he said. “You get a lot of stick as an Englishman at Murrayfield – I didn’t realize. Maybe I was a bit naïve going up there and thinking it would be plain sailing. It was a tough Test match.
“I learned a lot from playing in high-pressure environments like away at Murrayfield and away in France. They were both tough places to go and I learned a lot of lessons about myself personally, as well as how we can improve as a group.
“We’re gutted that we came third, but we learned a lot as a group and as long as we improve on that, whoever gets selected for the summer tour, and we improve on that again going into next season, we’ll put ourselves in a much better position. It’s always frustrating to lose. No-one goes on the field to lose, but I’ve learned a lot. At 70 minutes in most games we were there or thereabouts. I guess we are always looking for that perfect game and we probably didn’t get that.”
With the Six Nations parked, Smith and Harlequins put the Premiership to bed for a couple of weeks with their 41-14 win over London Irish on Sunday. That leaves them third with four games to play and a chance to repeat their spectacular march to the title of last season when they came back from 28-0 down to beat Bristol 43-36 in the semi-final and stun Exeter 40-38 in the end.
On Sunday, Harlequins head to Montpellier for the first leg of their Champions Cup last-16 tie against the current Top 14 leaders. Quins have never challenged for Europe’s premier club competition but Smith believes they have the tools to do it this year.
He added: “It’s the biggest tournament in Europe for a club player, and in my first year we didn’t get the rub of the green, but it was a brilliant experience for me going down to La Rochelle, playing against a brilliant team . We’re in a different place as a Quins team now, we have much greater ambitions and we don’t want to just take part, we want to win the silverware. It starts this week.
“We’ve got to fight, as they’re a brilliant team, Montpellier, and they’re going to throw everything at us. It’s a different vibe. Last year no one gave us a chance (in the Premiership), and I don’t feel people give us a chance this year. We’re third now with four games to go, we’ll try to get bonus points in all of them and see where we are. At the minute we’ll focus on getting out of the round of 16 in Europe and that’s something Quins haven’t done for a while.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.