Marcus Smith backed for big impact from the bench when England tackle Wales
Marcus Smith has been told he has a “very important” role to play from the England bench in their Guinness Six Nations clash with Wales in Cardiff.
Fly-half Smith started the Championship opener against Scotland, but joined the replacements for the Twickenham victory over Italy as Owen Farrell was switched from 12 to 10 and Steve Borthwick claimed his first win as England boss.
“Marcus has been brilliant and every player on the bench has got a very important role to play,” said former New Zealand outside-half Nick Evans, who worked closely with Smith at Harlequins before joining the England set-up for the 2023 Six Nations.
“I was sat behind a pretty good player a lot of times in Dan Carter. I know what it feels like to be in that position, so I am able to give them advice.
“Are you just watching the game or actually seeing what’s happening on the field?
“We have a real clear communication pathway to Marcus and what’s expected of him when he comes on.
“His role will be different at times, because it’s different to when you’re starting or you’re on the bench, but he will have a big impact.
“We’re not asking him to go out and be Owen, we’re asking him to go out there and be Marcus Smith.”
On Friday, Evans was back in the dressing room at the Principality Stadium for the first time since France shocked New Zealand at a 2007 World Cup quarter-final.
Evans said the memories came flooding back as he looked around, recalling “that’s where I was sitting, in the quietest changing room in the world”.
But he said his focus this week has been getting the best out of an England midfield set to come up against a new Wales centre partnership featuring Joe Hawkins and the 6ft 5in Mason Grady, the 20-year-old Cardiff powerhouse who will be making his international debut.
“He’s a big boy,” said Evans. “But we’ve done our research and look at how they operate.
“It’s a good challenge for us, to keep us on our toes, but the focus is on what we can do.
“Ollie Lawrence and Henry Slade have had a game under their belt. Ollie deserved his man of the match (against Italy) and gives us a real focal point.
“We asked that of him, to bring his strengths and what he’s been doing at Bath into the game.
“Sladey’s a brilliant tactician and that ball player out in the centre we’ve seen for Exeter and in the England jersey before. We’ve had another week with that combination and we’re looking forward to developing it.”
The build-up to the Cardiff clash has been dominated by the crisis engulfing Welsh rugby and the threatened player strike that put the game in jeopardy.
Wales players eventually struck a peace deal with the game’s powerbrokers on Wednesday evening to allow the contest to go ahead.
Evans said: “I sympathise with them a lot, that uncertainty around those players. Being on the other side as a player you want that certainty.
“But we know that any player who puts the Welsh jersey on will play with pride, representing the country with an immense amount of intensity.”
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