At 23 and having grown up in Manila, you could be forgiven for thinking the deep-seated rivalry between England and Australia might have passed Marcus Smith by.
Not a bit of it.
Smith has arrived in the southern hemisphere for what is his first senior tour as England’s premier fly-half. It is a pivotal one for him, his team, and head coach Eddie Jones.
Marcus Smith is looking forward to contributing to the rivalry between England and Australia
Smith was raised to realise the importance of sporting clashes between the two nations. His English father, Jeremey, ensured that was the case in his younger days. Now, the talented playmaker is ready to taste the heat of an Anglo-Australian battle himself.
‘It will be a dream come true,’ says Smith. ‘The England and Australia rivalry 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. I’m desperate to play a part in this series because it’s going to be a special one.
Smith recalls his father instilling in him the fierce England and Wallabies rivalry at a young age
‘I remember when I was younger in the Philippines, my grand- parents lived in England. We grew up in the Philippines and my step-grandad actually flew over from England to watch the Ashes.
‘He watched all five Test matches in a pub called Heckle and Jeckle in Manila. It was 2005, the one when Michael Kasprowicz got caught at Edgbaston. It was a brilliant game.
‘I don’t know what my dad was doing, but he was missing work to watch it too with the time zone! It’s been instilled in me and my two younger brothers for a long time. Mum has had to buy in as well! It’s one of those rivalries you want to be a part of.’
Smith helped England beat Australia 32-15 at Twickenham last November, but since then the two teams have had contrasting fortunes.
Jones’ England just won two Six Nations games this year. Dave Rennie’s Wallabies, meanwhile, are on an upward curve. Japanese-based trio Quade Cooper, Samu Kerevi and Marika Koroibete are all available to face England.
Australia’s domestic outfits have improved in Super Rugby and the country is looking ahead to hosting the next British & Irish Lions series and the World Cup in 2027.
Smith admitted Wallabies No 10 Quade Cooper has been giving him tips ahead of next week
Jones has constantly maintained his team’s journey to the next World Cup in 2023 is on course despite poor results, but Smith admits winning rugby is paramount in Australia.
England haven’t lost to Australia since 2015, winning the last eight matches between the sides. The countdown to the first Test in Perth a week today is on.
‘Everyone is desperate to get a Test series win,’ Smith adds. ‘It’s massive for us. We know how tough that is. There will be some boys who played in that Test series win in 2016.
‘The memories they made and the closeness of the team on that tour was really evident. That’s what we’re trying to build. It’s one of the things you dream about when you’re growing up — to go abroad and travel the world with England. It’s going to be special.
The 23-year-old has scored over a hundred points in just 10 caps for England since 2021
‘I feel we’re going in the right direction and I’m loving every minute playing for England. I feel we’re in a good position. We’re confident. The last time we played Australia, we got the better of them. They’ve got some new players in their squad now. We know that, but we’re raring to go.’
A 52-21 humiliation at the hands of a 14-man Barbarians at Twickenham last weekend was hardly the ideal preparation for England ahead of a crucial tour.
Jones again brushed off criticism after that hammering and he is likely to select Smith and the fit-again Owen Farrell as his midfield pairing for the series opener.
Australian Jones has also warned his team to expect a febrile atmosphere in his homeland. Host broadcasters Stan Sport have already released a video of Wallabies prop Taniela Tupou crashing an English tea party.
England won 3-0 on their last visit to Australia in 2016, but the 2022 tour is likely to be far tougher. Smith and Farrell will hold the key to England’s fortunes, with the former set to take on a fellow maverick attacker in Cooper. The pair will be rivals this summer, but are no strangers.
‘We’ve connected a little bit over socials and he’s helped me a lot actually,’ Smith says of Cooper, who is 11 years his senior.
‘He’s taught me a few things —just different ways to see the game; like the types of things he looks for when he’s analysing opposition and the way he thinks when he makes a mistake.
Smith said that hopefully he’ll be ‘the one smiling’ after facing off against Cooper in July
‘It’s his mindset, really. 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.
‘Fingers crossed I can get a chance to go up against him because he’s a top player and it will be nice to challenge myself against another top 10 in the world.’
England have spent their first few days in Australia settling into their new environment. Of Jones’s 36-man squad, 10 were part of the 2016 clean sweep. One of those is Farrell.
The Saracens captain missed the Six Nations due to an ankle injury, but is a certainty to start the first Test alongside Smith. Either Farrell or Courtney Lawes will be England captain.
Owen Farrell (left) is set to partner Smith (right) in the midfield when England play Australia
‘He’s a brilliant player. I loved playing with him a few times in the autumn. He’s a massive competitor and wears his heart on his sleeve,’ Smith says of Farrell.
‘More than that he’s got brilliant vision and skills at the line. We trained together a couple of weeks ago and I really enjoyed it.
‘I’ve loved learning and bouncing ideas off him. Hopefully we can put our competitive edge together to try and get a Test series win.
‘Both of us want to do that. We’ve spoken long and hard about it. I think we complement each other nicely and we both see the game pretty similarly.
‘I hope we can get the best out of each other. If we can do that together and continue to build our relationship off the field, it will lead to good results.’