Marcus Smith exclusive: How Jonny Wilkinson and Daley Thompson guided England's drop-goal hero to next level

Marcus Smith exclusive: How Jonny Wilkinson and Daley Thompson guided England's drop-goal hero to next level

Daley Thompson turbocharges his speed, Jonny Wilkinson fine-tunes his kicking boots — but Marcus Smith’s mum keeps his feet firmly on the ground.

Olympic great Thompson reached out to Smith to offer sprint coaching and mentorship that continues to go from strength to strength, while World Cup-winner Wilkinson has helped Smith add an extra tactical kicking threat to complement his livewire attacking game in another enduring relationship.

The British sporting stars in England and Harlequins fly-half Smith’s corner could shine no brighter, but any notion of Smith running away with himself has long-since been dismissed by a classic touch of familial tough love.

“When I was younger, I was probably a bit too arrogant, a bit too cocky, a bit too outspoken,” Smith tells Standard Sport. “My mum is my chief motivator when it comes to trying to get the best out of me in terms of body language and things like that.

“I had a few honest chats with her, and she said, ‘Marcus, you can have that inner confidence, but you don’t need to keep telling everyone’, so I’ve dialled it down a fair bit. I do still have inner confidence, inner belief, but I keep that to myself a bit more these days.”

Smith was all primed to fight for England’s vacant No10 shirt in the Six Nations build-up, only to suffer a calf injury in training on the eve of the ­tournament.

The 24-year-old was forced to miss England’s first three championship matches, but stepped off the bench to land the winning drop goal in dramatic fashion in Saturday’s 23-22 win over Ireland at Twickenham.

Marcus Smith will have to bide his time to take on the England starting job (Leo Francis)
Marcus Smith will have to bide his time to take on the England starting job (Leo Francis)

Smith’s extra half-yard of pace has been evident ever since delivering impressive cameos at full-back at the autumn’s World Cup.

Now he has detailed exactly how he came to work with decathlon great Thompson in the first place.

“When I was at Brighton College, my brother Tomas was in Daley’s son Alex’s year,” says Smith. “My dad spotted Daley on the touchline at a match and he was shell-shocked.

“A few years later, Daley said to my parents that he’d like to help me in any way possible, and that was a real pinch-myself moment. His knowledge, experience and mindset, it’s all helped me get to where I am today. We’re constantly in touch. I try to train with him whenever I can, down in Brighton.

“We would meet for hot chocolates, and things like that, to discuss my plans and goals.

“We’ve worked on specifics, too, like the way I was running. I’m so grateful for all the guidance he’s given me — he’s definitely made me a lot faster.”

If Thompson is the perfect sprint coach, then masterball-manipulator Wilkinson also acts as the ideal tactical strategist.

“Kicking out of hand is the one thing that’s a constant work-on and doesn’t come naturally to me, if I’m being honest,” says Smith.

To have Jonny Wilkinson in our corner, as fly-halves at England, it’s special

Marcus Smith

“But now I try to use kicking as a real weapon. I’ve shifted my mindset there, and working with Jonny has been huge for that. If I really want to establish myself in the England No10 jersey, then I need to keep adding to that side of the game.

“To have Jonny in our corner, as fly-halves at England, it’s special. We don’t really talk too much about rugby when we’re together, we talk about mindset and the way we’re living our lives.”

Even Smith himself cannot quite believe some younger Quins team-mates are starting to notice his advancing years.

Smith knows time remains comfortably on his side, but is determined to bring all his hard graft and progress to bear — and fast.

“I was a bit tubby when I was young and I’m hugely grateful to my nutritionists, who have helped me put all that in order,” said Smith, who was speaking on behalf of Optimum Nutrition.

“With all the supplements and extras, you can be in complete confidence you are making the most of your training.”