If England are to return from Australia victorious this summer then it is almost an understatement to say the fledgling partnership between Marcus Smith and Owen Farrell needs to develop into a formidable double act. It is a truism that England will rely on their forward muscle, their kicking prowess and their set-piece grunt against the wily Wallabies but despite the importance of those parts of the game, so much rides on whether Smith and Farrell hit it off on the pitch.
They have managed only 68 minutes at 10-12 for England so far together, as it turns out, against Australia in the autumn – a comprehensive victory for Eddie Jones’s side and a qualified success for the Smith-Farrell axis. The idea is that Farrell can step in at first receiver during structured play while Smith lurks, scanning for space and waiting for the opportunity with that little bit more time. Sounds simple enough on paper but lest we forget they did not have Samu Kerevi lining them up back in November and it is a surefire bet they will see plenty of the Australia centre in the coming weeks.
Without Manu Tuilagi at outside centre, the importance of the two men inside whoever wears the No 13 jersey is heightened and though Jones will keep his cards close to his chest over selection – to the extent he has not publicly named his tour captain – he has been candid over his plans for Smith and Farrell, who have been wasting little opportunity to get themselves on the same page.
“He’s a brilliant player,” said Smith of Farrell. “He’s a massive competitor and wears his heart on his sleeve. More than that he’s got brilliant vision and skills at the line. Hopefully we can put our competitive edge together to try and get a Test series win. We’ve spoken long and hard about it. I think we complement each other nicely. I think we both see the game pretty similarly. I hope we can both come together and get the best out of each other. Hopefully I can be there to get the best out of him and allow him to show his skills on the park. Hopefully he can also allow me to show the best of me.”
Outwardly, they are markedly different personalities but Smith and Farrell share an obsession with all things rugby which ensures they have plenty to talk about and when the England squad descends en masse to the second game of rugby league’s State of Origin series on Sunday in the same stadium that stages next Saturday’s first Test, there will be few spectators watching the match more intently.
“I love watching Super Rugby and the NRL,” adds Smith. “I actually can’t get enough. It’s brilliant to bounce ideas off him and George [Ford] when he’s in camp as well. It’s nice to learn from these guys because they’ve got so much experience. Hopefully we can continue to do that with the Origin games which are going on at the same time. We chat here and there and if we see something in any game, we talk and chew the fat a little bit. We’ll try and bring it together if we get to play together. Through the season we definitely share ideas. We try to talk when we can.”
Smith has proved an avid learner. He works closely with Jonny Wilkinson whenever the World Cup winner drops into England camps, he remains in close contact with Finn Russell following the British & Irish Lions tour last summer, he took himself off to train with Leeds Rhinos and he has been picking the brains of Quade Cooper, the Australia fly-half who he may well line up against in Perth next weekend.
“We’ve connected a little bit over socials and he’s helped me a lot actually,” says Smith. “He’s taught me a few things he’s done. This time I don’t think we’ll be talking too much on the tour but hopefully post-game we can have a beer and hopefully I’ll be the one smiling.
“Just different ways to see the game. The types of things he looks for when he’s analysing opposition. The way he thinks when he makes a mistake. It’s his mindset, really. It’s pretty amazing to chat to those guys and just pick up one thing from them because they’ve been playing international rugby for a long time now.”
This will be Smith’s first tour with England. He needs no history lesson over the significance of Anglo-Australian rivalries, however. “[It] is obviously huge, not just in rugby but in cricket and all other sports. My dad instilled in me as a young kid that there is a lot of rivalry and confrontation in those games. It’s one of those rivalries you want to be a part of.”