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England’s Rising Star of Rugby Marcus Smith Talks Tissot & The Lions

Marcus Smith The Lions

Marcus Smith. If you’ve not heard the name before, then you’re most definitely not a fan of rugby. The young Harlequins wunderkind is one of those names that rugby pundits discuss at great length – about his talent, where he’s going and whether he could be the next Jonny Wilkinson. It’s the kind of reputation that could quite easily go to your head and yet, when we caught up Marcus for an interview just before the epic Leinster vs La Rochelle final of the European Champions Cup, Smith was nothing but approachable, especially when it came to getting some tips.

“Leinster have the home advantage, the smart money’s on them but… well, the La Rochelle guys are big,” he said, hedging his bets in a way that was, in the end, kind of prescient. “I wouldn’t want to be going up against them.”

Indeed, the La Rochelle scrum halves towered over the pitch, very much unlike the 5 ft 9 fly half next to me. At 24, it almost seemed shocking that Smith regularly takes to the field against that sort of competition, but he’s actually been doing this for quite a while now. At 18 Marcus became the second-youngest debut player in history when he took to the field for Harlequins, but he was playing some serious rugby long, long before that.

Marcus Smith Harlequins

“I started sports back in the Philippines where I was born. My two brothers and I would play rugby, football, cricket, anything and everything. When we moved to Singapore when I was eight, we went to an international school, which is where I really got into rugby. We went to Malaysia, Australia, met Kiwis, French guys, South Africans, I was exposed to the sports in a load of different forms, an incredibly introduction to what rugby can be.”

Things got a bit more serious at 13, when Marcus moved to England and quickly joined his school team in Brighton. Even before he finished his education there were murmurings about Smith on the pitch, especially as he transitioned over to his current fly half role. So, when Harlequins came calling, he was ready – though needless to say, it was a bit of a step up.

“I felt pretty prepared; the school league is a really high standard, so I knew what I was doing. But the size of some of the guys I was getting tackled by was new. Though honestly, the biggest mental hurdle was that I found myself playing alongside some of my idols – guys like Owen Farrell, Danny Care, Mike Brown. England legends, club legends. That needed some getting over, even if the pinch me feeling’s never really gone away.”

Marcus Smith The Lions
Marcus Smith The Lions

He evidently did get over it because in his first season he scored three tries on his way to 208 points, and only improved from there. He was a driving force behind Harlequins’ various successes, right up to their Premiership win in 2021 – which is right about when Smith’s career went stratospheric as he joined the British and Irish Lions.

“That was a special moment. It was one that didn’t sink in for a few months, not until I got back from the tour. I won the league with Harlequins three weeks earlier and had my first cap for England the week after. I was taken straight down the tunnel, completely shell-shocked and trying to control my breath. I was not expecting it. But I grabbed it with both hands.”

It’s no wonder then that his name is spoken in the same breath as the good and great of rugby history. Between his youth, his upwards trajectory and his sheer impact on the field, Jonny Wilkinson’s often the main comparison to Smith. It’s so commonly drawn a parallel in fact, that you might expect there to be a bit of pressure to live up to that shadow. If there is though, it’s something that he’s embracing.

Marcus Smith Tissot
Marcus Smith Tissot

“It’s good for me to have someone like that who I’m constantly chasing,” says Smith of Wilkinson, “who I’m trying to emulate. What he achieved not just with England but in France with Toulon… he’s done a lot more than that legendary drop goal in 2003. For me to be able to rub shoulders with him is a blessing. And a target.”

Which neatly brings us to one of the biggest speculations around Smith’s career – whether, when his contract with Harlequins is up, he’ll resign or move to the French league. For a bit of background, salary caps among the English teams are low compared to the rest of the world, with players not being paid nearly as much as their equivalents in other countries. And so, there’s a leaking of talent that feels like it could sink the ship.

So, will that include Smith? “Potentially. It’s always been a dream of mine to play in the top 14 and the league over in France is spectacular, as are the fans. Every time I’ve been able to wear a ‘Quins jersey and play over there I’ve been licking my lips at the opportunity. It’s not just the salary cap, though that plays a huge part. But they also have the fans there, regularly 20,000, 40,000 to a game. That’s something we’re struggling to get here.” Not that he’s given up on the UK completely, mind you.

Marcus Smith Harlequins

“It’s our responsibility to make the game exciting for fans, to make them want to buy tickets, to want to turn up and watch. We feel it on the field and we’re desperate to get as many people involved in rugby as possible. We need them. The more youngsters we get in the game, the healthier it’ll be moving forward. That I can help with. But there are other things well above my pay grade that I can’t. I think we can look at sports like football, which is tremendous here and learn from them. Otherwise, we risk losing more teams than the couple we did this year. We need to look at English rugby long and hard.”

By this point things in the stadium were getting loud as fans quickly fled the the interview pubs of Dublin to get to their seats before the start of the match. This wasn’t one they wanted to miss, especially the Leinster fans that wanted to make up for their loss against La Rochelle the previous year. Not that we needed the prompt; Smith was keeping an eagle eye on the time, in part because he was still in the honeymoon period with his watch.

Tissot PRX Powermatic 80 Ice Blue

Tissot PRX Powermatic 80 Ice Blue

“It’s the PRX with the baby blue face,” he glowed about a watch that most of us can’t get for love nor money right now. “For me, the minute I saw this and tried it on I was buzzing. I like the fact it’s not your boring circular watch, I feel like it resonates with how I play the game – different, out of the box – and it’s my kind of style.”

Said style is pretty much the definition of smart casual, a nicely cut, medium blue suit with a serious pair of Nike Air Jordans. It’s the kind of outfit I’d wear if I were ten years younger (i.e. exactly Smith’s age). And in fact, sneakers are one of Smith’s one true loves: “I have a fair few pairs. Nike are one of my sponsors, but I’d love them whether that were the case or not. I’ve got Dunks, Jordans… though my number one pair would have to be my Sacais.”

Not really a pair that you’d wear on a rugby pitch there, but at least Smith can wear them in his downtime, or at least on the rare occasions he gets any. Though he generally has that all planned out in advance.

Nike Sacai

“What I really want to do is spend time with my family down in Brighton and with my girlfriend. They’ve all sacrificed so much for me, so I just like spending time with the people that I love. Or if I have a half day spare, a round of golf. I really like golf – even if my handicap’s 16.”

These days, even the caddy has a solid chance of recognising Smith. In many ways, he’s the young, modest face of English rugby. Hell, our taxi driver heading to the Aviva stadium placed him instantly. For a 24-year-old, that more than anything must feel surreal. “I don’t think you can really prepare yourself for it,” Smith says of that level of fame. I’m grateful for the people that support me, but it is strange, especially that I’m being recognised in other countries now. It’s different – but if it means doing what I love, I wouldn’t change anything.”

We left things there as the European Champions Cup got underway and thank god for that. Even paying attention we almost missed Leinster’s quick early try. In fact, by the end of the first half, it looked very much like the big guys of La Rochelle weren’t a problem. “Keep an eye on them”, Marcus warned though. And what do you know? A 27-26 win for the French side. It was one of greatest comebacks in the competition’s history and netted me £20 to boot. Though if Marcus ever does decide to head across the channel… well, my odds wouldn’t have paid out nearly so well.

More details at England Rugby.

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About the author

Sam Kessler

Legend has it that Sam’s first word was ‘escapement’ and, while he might have started that legend himself, he’s been in the watch world long enough that it makes little difference. As the editor of Oracle Time, he’s our leading man for all things horological – even if he does love yellow dials to a worrying degree. Owns a Pogue; doesn’t own an Oyster Perpetual. Yet.