England fly-half Marcus Smith: “I’ve always had this thing where I want to be the best in the world”

The Harlequins No.10 talks to GJ about the hardest part of being a pro, how he originally wanted to be a footballer, and how he got into the world of watches…

Every few years in the world of English rugby, a new phenom enters the arena. More than two decades ago, it was Jonny Wilkinson. After that, it was a string of players including Danny Cipriani, Chris Ashton and Manu Tuilagi. And now, it’s Marcus Smith. And though the likes of Cipriani and Tuilagi have had vastly different international careers, with no shortage of news stories of behaviour on and off the field, Smith has come along with a reputation for being an unproblematic guy, straight down the line, hard working, fiercely determined and with the weight of expectations on his shoulders.

He’s been tearing it up for Harlequins in recent seasons, played at both No.10 and full-back for England, and continues to be a headache for defensive lines in the Premiership and in Europe. With George Ford’s career winding down and Owen Farrell moving to France, it’s seemingly Smith’s time.

Here, we talk to Smith about game preparation, match temperament, his style and his watch game…

GJ: Did you always grow up thinking that you’ll play rugby professionally?

MS: When I was younger, I guess I was very privileged that mum and dad gave me and my two younger brothers the opportunity to do a lot of sports. My dad was an avid sportsman and a sports fan, so whatever he could throw us into, we always got involved. Me and my two younger brothers used to play rugby, football and cricket in my grandad’s garden, in the parks in Brighton, and in Asia growing up.

All those sports, to be honest, would have been a dream of mine to become professional [in]. I always wanted to be a professional sportsman – even when I was at school, I remember my attention span in the classroom was very different to what it was out on the grass or in the gym or doing training. So, I think that was natural. That was the path that I wanted to go down.

However, when I was younger, being completely honest, I wanted to be a footballer. I had a trial at Tottenham when I was 14; sadly didn’t get into that. I played for Brighton, one below the academy, which I think was the Centre of Excellence, or whatever it was called back then, and I loved my football in Asia. I wanted to be a footballer and I think moving to Brighton at the age of 13 and going to Brighton College, which was a predominantly rugby and cricket school, pushed me towards that slightly. Harlequins had an interest in me at such a young age – I was in their academy from early on – and thank god I’m here today.

Why did the family move to Brighton? Was it for dad’s work?

Yes. So, we grew up in Asia, my mum’s Filipino, my dad’s English. They met in Hong Kong; my mum was flying for Cathay Pacific. I think my dad had enough of the UK back then, so he moved to Asia, in 1992. We then moved from the Philippines; so I was born in the Philippines and my two younger brothers lived there for eight years, then moved to Singapore for five with my dad’s work. And then, mum and dad wanted us to go to secondary school back here in England.

We always knew it was an opportunity that we couldn’t miss. And I think that mum and dad made the selfless decision, which parents do, and they moved us back, which I’m very grateful for. Dad’s from Brighton, so he didn’t want to go anywhere else.

Where does the fire in the belly come from? Because I think anyone watching you will see it – and you don’t often see it from a fly-half.

I think that’s a byproduct of having two younger brothers and a dad who’d never let us win. My mum’s extremely competitive, especially whenever we played board games or games at home. And I remember from a young age losing to mum and dad, or losing to my dad and crying because I didn’t win at this sort of thing. And I think just the competitive mindset that I’ve been… I guess lucky to have been brought up with. It’s why I’m so desperate to win and so, I guess, emotional on the field. It’s because it does mean an awful lot to me when I’m out there and it’s one of them things that sometimes I can’t actually control. People take the mick out of me for over-celebrating and celebrating too much when I score, but that’s okay.

What’s the hardest part of being a pro?

I would say it’s the discipline – the mental capacity to keep going when you’re either physically fatigued or injured. Thank god that I’ve only had a few injuries – all probably mid-termers, like eight to ten weeks – but those times are tough. And it’s the fortitude and the capacity to keep going and persevere through those moments. The benefits and the experience of playing in front of thousands of people, a sport that you love, is special on match day. There’s nothing like it.

Do you still enjoy it, even though it’s now a job?

Yeah, I absolutely love it. Again, sometimes I have to pinch myself and ask myself, Is this really my job today? If I’m being completely honest, today I went to the gym, lobbed the ball around on the paddock and now I’m home for this.

Of course, you get a little bit frustrated with certain things – but it’s the best job in the world. It’s one of them where, as a kid, or even now, I’d pay to be in my position. Luckily, it’s my job and it’s something that I do love every single day.

Obviously there are, like I said, tough times when you wake up. It’s blowing and there’s hail everywhere; then you probably wanna be in bed or indoors. However, definitely the positives outweigh the negatives and it’s a dream of mine, so I’m very blessed and very lucky to be in this position.

What is it that motivates you? Is it about maximising your potential and being as good as you can possibly be, or winning a European cup or World Cup?

From a personal point of view, it’s to be the best player I can be. I’ve always had this thing where I want to be the best in the world, and I think that’s first and foremost. You’ve got to focus on yourself and be the best player you can be. Leave no stone unturned in terms of my preparation, whether that be physical recovery, or mental winding down. And, I think, if I can strike that balance and keep working hard, stay determined, who knows what I can achieve in my career.

And then, from a team point of view, I want to win the Premiership again. I want to win European titles and I want to win with England, whether that be Six Nations, summer tours or – and hopefully – the World Cup, and also go on the Lions tour. So I want to do a lot more. Obviously, I’ve been very lucky that in my short career, I’ve achieved some of my dreams and ambitions. But those experiences have definitely made me more hungry and desperate to do them again, because those were life-changing experiences for me and my family.

When it comes to your own style, do you think much about how you want to present yourself off the pitch?

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I do. Especially more recently, as I’m getting older, I like to feel good. I like to dress up smart once in a while. Obviously, we spend a lot of our time in sweaty kit and it’s nice to, I guess, get showered, get changed and feel good. For me, it’s important. A good way for me to wind down is to get out. Thankfully, we’re on the doorstep of London, so there’s a lot of nice restaurants and a lot of good theatre events going on.

I do like to venture into London, feeling good, looking good and experience something completely different and out of my comfort zone, because sometimes we can be in this bubble of rugby.

How would you describe your style?

Never been asked the question, but I’ll probably say smart but stylish. I don’t want to be too formal, but I do like dressing up in suits and shirts. At the same time, I do enjoy the new street ‘fits that you see rocking around now online, on TikTok, on Instagram. I like investing in that sort of thing, because I feel a lot more confident and comfortable within myself.

Your watch is a natural extension of your style – did you ever wear a watch growing up? Or did watches come to you later on in life?

I never wore a watch growing up. It’s one of them things that I’ve always had a passion for.

No one in my family really had them, but whenever I was watching TV – Formula One, rugby, football, cricket – growing up, I’d always have an interest in what they were wearing on their wrist. I think it shows class, it shows elegance and it’s one of them things that makes you feel more confident when you’ve got one on.

I’m with Tissot, who’ve sponsored me and had my back for a few years now. And one thing I do love about them is how forward-thinking and how smart their watches are, and how much passion they have for their watches. I’ve got a lot of passion for my sport, and Tissot definitely do as well. They’re always wanting to be one step ahead of other brands, and that’s something that definitely inspired me to be a partner with them.

Which watch stuck out to you?

The PRX – I’ve got the PRX ice blue. It’s the Powermatic one. It’s different. It stands out, but not too much. And it’s one of those that, wherever I go, wherever I wear it, I always get asked the question, Where have you got it from? And, proudly, I say Tissot.

I also love my Heritage 1973, which is a smarter watch that I use for dinners and events.

It makes me feel confident and comfortable in myself, which hopefully means that whomever I’m talking to, whomever I’m interacting with, gets the best version of me.

The ice blue is not a million miles away from the Harlequins teal blue. It’s amazing how many of those I’ve seen out and about. It has to be one of the most popular watches at the moment. They’re everywhere. Incredible value as well.

And I love that the brand is accessible for most. It caters for everyone, from the high end to first-time watch buyers.

Are there any boys in the England camp or the Quins camp that you can connect with over your love of watches?

A few lads: there’s Tom and Ben Curry, who I grew up playing similar age groups with… they’re into their watches. One of our lads here at Quins, Dillon Lewis, loves his watches. Sam Underhill likes his watches as well.

I feel it’s a good way to immensely decompress – to have a passion outside of the sport that we play.

Is there a Tissot watch that you’re after next?

Potentially the PR516; it’s the mechanical chronograph one. I like the detail of it. It’s one of them that’s still classy and you can wear with any outfit.

I’m going to hopefully, fingers crossed, get that one day. When I do, I’ll be wearing it everywhere.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity

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