Hong Kong Rugby Union

Marcus Smith’s dad played for Hong Kong and now the Manila-born prodigy is on a fast track to rugby stardom with England

The 19-year-old’s father, Jeremy, reminisces about his time living in Hong Kong and tells how his son’s Asian roots are helping to drive him to the top

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 February, 2018, 9:34am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 February, 2018, 9:09pm

He’s been touted by Eddie Jones as England’s “X-factor rookie” ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan and 19-year-old Marcus Smith is drawing on his Asian roots as he rides the fast track to superstardom.

Born in Manila, Smith spent the first 12 years of his life in Asia and, while he was never based in Hong Kong, his father Jeremy represented the territory while living here before the birth of his first son.

Smith Snr lived in Hong Kong from 1992-97, playing for Valley and the national side, before moving to Manila and then Singapore, saying his son’s years in Asia and the fact his mother, Suzanne, is a Filipina have helped him both on and off the field.

“He is incredibly determined and confident but he is also very humble. The Asian culture is a very respectful one,” Jeremy said.

“They have great respect for their families and their elders and Marcus has that in him. I think that has helped off the field as he has grown up. He’s got loads of confidence but no arrogance and he is very grounded. He is just a respectful young man.”

Marcus first picked up a rugby ball at the age of four at the Manila Nomads before playing for Centaurs Rugby Club in Singapore, with many trips to the Hong Kong Sevens in between.

“He grew up with the Sevens, watching players like Jonah Lomu, Waisale Serevi, Christian Cullen and David Campese. He watched seven or eight Hong Kong Sevens during his time in Asia,” Jeremy said, also reminiscing on his own time in Hong Kong: “It was brilliant, Hong Kong is still my favourite place.”

It was clear at a young age that Marcus was going to be something special, but Jeremy says that it was on returning to the UK in 2011 that his son’s rugby took off.

“At Centaurs, as a player he used to make really good decisions,” Jeremy said. “When he got to Brighton College and the Harlequins, receiving excellent coaching, he got progressively more dominant in his position.”

Marcus went on to debut for Harlequins in the Aviva Premiership at just 18 and has spent time in the England squad, training with the senior team in the lead-up to and during the ongoing Six Nations.

“He wants to play for England for many years and he wants to be a British & Irish Lion,” Jeremy said. “He’s handling things fantastically well. He’s made some good close friends at Harlequins and their friendship and mentoring has certainly helped him settle into the start of his playing career. He is determined to get better.”

And while Australian Jones rubs many up the wrong way with his insatiable work ethic and insistence on perfection, Marcus is thriving on the chance to work with the master coach.

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“He enjoys very much working with him. He’s challenging, he pushes Marcus. He’s always on at him, he send him texts regularly about what to improve on,” Jeremy said. 

“He pulls no punches and he is a firm task master, but Marcus seems to thrive on the relationship.”

While playing for England drives the 19-year-old to improve every day, he also has a desire to give back to the country he was born in.

“I have no doubt that if he is ever in the Philippines in the off-season, if there was an opportunity to do a bit of coaching he would absolutely love it. He loves sharing his experiences,” Jeremy said.

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“The Philippine Rugby Football Union are aware of Marcus’ link to the Philippines through his mum and he got a very nice letter from the PRFU when he was selected for England a few months ago in the first training camp.  

“They said ‘we see you as one of ours and we are very proud of you’ and because of his background there is a very strong bond between the union and Marcus even though they don’t know him that well.”