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    Marcus Smith is the future of rugby, whether you like it or not, an England shirt is no guarantee

    Marcus Smith was in superb form for Harlequins – despite defeat to Toulouse on Sunday. Photo: Getty Images/Glyn Kirk

    Wither Whether traditional fans like it or not, whether they admit it or not, the battle for the hearts and minds of future players and fans will not be fought through conventional means. What worked in the past will have to change to what will work in the future, meaning that a cult of the famous player is likely to emerge. There has been a clear change in the way young fans engage with rugby. They no longer join the game as club fans, they are more likely to follow the star players first and the clubs second.

    This task requires balancing the demands for higher status for individual players and maintaining vital team spirit. Rugby has some dirty, unheralded work to do before the show can begin, and the one player who gets all the credit doesn't always perform well. It can also hide the fact that for a person to shine, they often need the help of certain players in unappreciated ways.

    Marcus Smith is one of the players whose fame is already visible in many areas of the sport and beyond. His alma mater, Brighton College, attributes its growing list of applicants for places, at least in part, to Smith's previous apprenticeship. His club Harlequins can attest to his popularity among young fans, and their club shop is in demand for replica No. 10 shirts.

    It just so happens that as a number 10, Smith is also the player who has primary responsibility for executing his team's game plan. This means that Smith's contributions automatically receive increased attention and his performances receive more scrutiny than some of his peers. Add to this the fact that England captain Owen Farrell is currently unavailable for the upcoming Six Nations, and Smith's current form is of interest to more than just his club and his fans.

    When Eddie Jones was an England international Coach, he tried his best to warn Smith that he had an inflated ego, but such concerns were misplaced. No one around Smith who knows him well has said anything other than that he is a hard-working player who is completely realistic about his performances; good and bad.

    Eddie Jones warned Marcus Smith against having an inflated ego – but it never seems to materialize. Photo: Getty Images/Adam Pretty

    Before Sunday's defeat to European superpower Toulouse, Smith had been named man of the match twice. However, his decisions and execution towards the French side were uneven, with elements of classism mixed with unusual imprecision. His probing kick around the ninth minute created a short lineout from which Andre Esterhuizen eventually struck the probing line. He also made a superb break in the second half, which, unfortunately, Quins were unable to convert in a scoring chance.

    On the other hand, he cleared the ball straight from the penalty spot, which should have given Quins a five-metre lineout, and fired just inside his own half. The latter act provided a platform in Queens territory from which Toulouse later scored their third try. Sometimes his short runs against 22 opponents ended in speculative shots that turned out to be ineffective.

    It was noticeable that when Danny Care replaced Will Porter as Quins scrum-half, Smith seemed to enjoy a little more freedom. It wasn't that Smith was better at taking the pass from Care, but that Care's famous penchant for breaking kept more Toulouse defenders close to the break, giving Smith more space. Like any other number 10, life becomes easier when there is a constant threat within you. It's also a lot easier when you have someone like Esterhuizen by your side.

    The powerful Andre Esterhuizen transfer lays the groundwork for Smith , to pull strings at club level. Photo: Getty Images/Miguel Medina

    The South African's influence on Smith's game cannot be underestimated. Esterhuizen's powerful shots put his team ahead, making the game easier, but just as important is his mere presence. Knowing his strength, the defenders do not dare to retreat from him. This means Smith can bring runners into play without being covered by a sliding defense.

    When it comes to England selection, Smith's chances of replicating his club's performance depend on whether Steve Borthwick selects players who can replicate Kare and Esterhuizen's contributions to Quins. Care has not yet retired from international rugby, but his continued selection should be questionable given his age and England's need to rebuild over a four-year period before the next World Cup. Manu Tuilagi is currently in good form at Sale, but his injury record shows he may not be a reliable option in the centre.

    If you take into account the fact that Smith was used by Borthwick as an option as Whether as a midfielder or full-back, Smith could end up on the bench covering George Ford and Freddie Steward.

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