Ones to Watch: is Marcus Smith the future of English rugby?
‘Ones to Watch’ is a limited series about sportspeople who Boar Sport writers expect to enjoy success in 2021. In our fourth article, Sam Warner selects three promising players from the Gallagher Premiership.
The 2020 Gallagher Premiership rugby season was filled with many thrills and shocks. The most notable of these was Saracens’ salary cap scandal, which docked them 70 points and resulted in their subsequent relegation. Exeter picked up their second title and have continued this impressive form into the 2020-2021 season, currently topping the table. The season has already been full of excitement, despite matches being cancelled due to Covid-19 outbreaks within squads. However, these cancellations should not cause rugby fans to despair, there are lots of young players who will continue to entertain us throughout 2021. Here are a few who I think will make the biggest impact.
Name: Marcus Smith | Age: 21 | Position: Fly-half | Club: Harlequin F.C. | Nationality: English
Marcus Smith has become very comfortable commanding the field from fly-half for Harlequins. Smith became the second-youngest Premiership debutant in history, behind George Ford, when he made his Harlequins bow against London Irish aged 18 years and 200 days in 2017. He is now one of the first names on the team sheet for the club. Smith’s debut Man of the Match performance guided England to victory against the Barbarians in 2019, scoring 26 points in the process. He has continued to improve his control of matches in the Premiership and is now one of the greatest threats at fly-half in the league. He will hope to show England Coach, Eddie Jones, why he deserves to be a part of the squad for the upcoming Six Nations in February 2021.
Name: Alfie Barbeary | Age: 20 | Position: Hooker | Club: Wasps RFC | Nationality: English
Alfie Barbeary made his breakthrough last season and has picked up from where he left off this term, making five starts for Wasps and scoring three tries. He made his first start in the Premiership last September, scoring a hat-trick against Leicester. His impressive form caught the eye of Eddie Jones, who gave Barbeary the first call-up during the Autumn Nations Cup. Unfortunately, he suffered an injury in Wasps’ recent win against Sale. If he requires surgery Barbeary could potentially be out of action for the Six Nations. Wasps director of rugby, Lee Blackett commented on his injury saying, “it’s hard to know as there are still question marks here as to whether he needs surgery. If he does it’ll be longer [than six to eight weeks], but if he doesn’t that’s probably around the right point.”
Hopefully, his injury is not too serious and we will be able to see him tear through defences again.
Name: Louis Rees-Zammit | Age: 19 | Position: Winger | Club: Gloucester Rugby | Nationality: Welsh
Louis Rees-Zammit enjoyed an excellent season for Gloucester last year, scoring 10 tries in the Premiership and three in the Heineken Champions Cup pool stage. Gloucester supporters voted the winger their 2019-20 Young Player of the Season, affirming his success. The Welshman made his debut for Gloucester towards the end of the 2018-2019 campaign, completing his breakthrough a year later. His impressive year culminated with a debut for the Welsh national team against France in the Six Nations when it recommenced this autumn. He provides a bright light for Welsh rugby fans – they can at least look forward to him beating defenders in the 2021 Six Nations if nothing else.
There are lots of other young players who found great success in the disjointed 2019-2020 Gallagher Premiership season and will undoubtedly shine in the ongoing season. However, these are the players who have stood out most to me and I expect to see big things from this year.
There are lots of young players who will burst onto the scene, but here are some I expect to flourish in 2021.
Name: Harry Randall | Age: 23 | Position: Scrumhalf | Club: Bristol bears | Nationality: English
Name: Ollie Hassell-Collins | Age: 21 | Position: Winger | Club: London Irish | Nationality: English
Name: Richard Capstick | Age: 20 | Position: Backrow | Club: Exeter Chiefs | Nationality: English
Name: Cameron Redpath | Age: 21 | Position: Inside Centre | Club: Sale Sharks | Nationality: English / Scottish