Mike Brown: Owen Farrell's 'could stunt' Marcus Smith's revolution

MIKE BROWN: Marcus Smith can lead England’s revolution at No 10 but he could face a power struggle playing alongside alpha-male Owen Farrell… I’d like to see Manu Tuilagi and Henry Slade play outside the Harlequins star

  • Marcus Smith set to start at No 10 for England during Autumn Internationals
  • Owen Farrell expected to continue at No 12 and play outside Smith
  • Brown says Smith would benefit by playing with Manu Tuilagi or Henry Slade
  • Farrell remains one of Eddie Jones’ most trusted lieutenants on the pitch

From the day Marcus Smith turned up at training in his school uniform, I’ve seen him grow as a leader who really takes ownership of things. 

When Harlequins went on their charge to win the Premiership title last season, Marcus was the guy calling the shots. 

We had this 21-year-old kid leading meetings in a room full of international players and it all felt completely natural.

Owen Farrell is expected to play outside Harlequins’ No 10 Marcus Smith for England

He’s the ringleader. The quarterback.  

A genuine triple-threat player with his kicking, passing and running ability. 

There’s no doubt Eddie Jones will make him No 10 this autumn. The question is: who do you play outside him? 

My concern is that Owen Farrell could still be wanting to call the shots if he’s wearing the No 12 jersey. You get the best out of Marcus when he is given full control over the attack and it will only work if Owen can adapt to that.

Brown believes Farrell could still want to call the shots if he played at 12 outside Smith

If there’s a power struggle on the pitch then you’ve got a problem. I saw it first hand with Owen and Danny Cipriani on the 2018 tour of South Africa. 

Danny was playing fly-half but Owen was still trying to make the calls from 12 and play it his way. You can see his body language towards Danny on the TV footage. It just didn’t work.

Owen’s an alpha male. That’s what makes him such a good leader. He’s brilliant at team-talks, brilliant at bringing energy and brilliant at setting the tone in defence. 

You always hear him over the referee’s microphone because he’s the loudest guy on the pitch. 

Harlequins’ playmaker prodigy Marcus Smith has been named in Eddie Jones’s 34-man squad

His 10-12 combination worked with George Ford because George is a bit more reserved. 

He doesn’t show a huge amount of emotion with his steely demeanour so it wasn’t an issue when Farrell wanted to be the dominant voice.

Marcus and George are completely different characters. Marcus wears his heart on his sleeve. He shows his happiness and his frustrations. 

The old management at Harlequins used to tell him what he could and couldn’t do. They would say: ‘Do run here, don’t run here, do kick here, don’t kick here’ — and it didn’t work. 

The Harlequins fly-half has been in terrific form this season and could flourish for England

Like most of that team, Marcus didn’t enjoy his rugby and started to second guess himself. He plays best when he’s got a smile on his face, he’s empowered and he’s calling the shots.

It’s a waste of his instinctive skills if you’re just going to tell him to follow a set of instructions. 

Owen is Eddie’s man and has a big reputation, which can be intimidating for a youngster. 

Marcus doesn’t need someone in his pocket, chirping away and telling him what he can and can’t do. Of course, he will make mistakes along the way but he’s a fast learner. He’s best when he’s playing off the cuff and expressing himself.

Farrell’s towering reputation could be intimidating even for a player like Smith

I would like to see Manu Tuilagi and Henry Slade outside him. 

They’re all in good form for their clubs and there would be a nice balance of skills. But Eddie named Owen as captain this week so I expect he will start. 

I just hope they give Marcus full autonomy and don’t clip his wings. It will be a step up in terms of game-management at Test level and you have to find the balance, but that area of his game has developed a lot.

There are other selection combinations to look at, too. It would be a big ask to put two new faces in at No 9 and No 10. Raffi Quirke looks like a real prospect but for now Ben Youngs should start at scrum-half. 

Brown believes Manu Tuilagi would be a better option at No 12 than Farrell

Ben’s been a big part of Leicester’s resurgence and his experience will be invaluable. Marcus is great at bringing the wide men into the game and I’d love to see him combine with a back-three of Adam Radwan, Max Malins and Freddie Steward.

There’s some electric running ability there and they could provide brilliant back-field cover. All three have started the season positively and Eddie deserves credit for selecting players on form.

There’s an opportunity for Alex Dombrandt and Callum Chick in the No 8 shirt. Alex is dangerous in the wide channels and already has a connection with Marcus — they’re pretty much neighbours! — so that may give him a headstart. 

But Callum has started the season brilliantly and if you wanted someone to pick hard lines off nine and 10 then he’s your guy.

Exeter Chiefs star Henry Slade is another option for Eddie Jones at No 12 outside Smith

I’m really proud of what Marcus has achieved. I loved my time playing with him. He’s tough, he challenges you and he throws his body into tackles. 

There’s some real steel behind the smile and the boyband haircut. Although, he’s the biggest mummy’s boy going and still gets his mum to cut his hair!

Marcus is a real people person and that helps as a No 10. He loves building bonds and learning about all the different cultures you get in a rugby team. 

His own background is Filipino and he would often eat rice and bacon for breakfast. That’s probably one of the reasons for his high skinfolds! You would always see him mixing with the Fijians and Argentinians, drinking kava and mate. 

Smith impressed in the summer for England and will be handed the keys to the team again

One piece of advice I’d give him is to ignore the noise and the fanfare. Keep his feet on the ground and don’t get carried away with all the endorsements that come his way, when people compare him with Jonny Wilkinson!

International rugby has been getting some bad press. It’s been pretty dull and Marcus can help turn that around.

PS I was gutted to see Anthony Watson pick up another injury at the weekend. He’s exactly the type of attacking player England need and would have been one of the starting wingers this autumn. We wish him a fast recovery.

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