Tabai Matson feels Harlequins are reaping the rewards of Marcus Smith’s England experience after the fly-half fired his side to an impressive win at Sale.
Smith was making his 100th Premiership appearance and celebrated that milestone in style by racking up 24 of Quins’ 29 points at the AJ Bell Stadium. Nick David’s early try had got the ball rolling in Manchester before Smith’s effort, and clinical exploits from the tee, helped the visitors bounce back from last week’s defeat against Leicester and inflict a first defeat of the season on Alex Sanderson’s high-flying Sharks.
Smith has earned 13 England caps since his debut last year and head coach Matson hopes his increasing international pedigree can spearhead a title challenge. “Every time he goes away with England he seems to come back a better player, and that’s fantastic for us,” he said. “He set a terrific example again today. He measures the tempo and keeps control, and he keeps the scoreboard ticking over.
“To have 100 Premiership appearancesunder his belt at 23 years of age is just ridiculous. He’s a great young player and he’s going to break lots of records. This is a great result for our club – Sale has been a notoriously tough place for us to come over the years but we’ve dug deep today and got the result. We squeezed them at crucial points and though it wasn’t classic Quins rugby, we stopped a lot of Sale’s momentum at crucial times.”
Quins struck the first blow in the north-west as winger David capitalised on a tidy kick from Smith to dot down in the corner. The visitors’ No 10 slotted a difficult kick to open his account for the day but Sale were soon level when Sam James surged through to cross under the posts.
The hosts were then ahead thanks to a Rob du Preez penalty but it was Quins who went into the break ahead after Smith capped a fluent move to score his side’s second try. Sale rallied throughout the second period but four more penalties from Smith ensured Quins claimed their third win of the season.
“There’s not really that much more we need to do to create the chances, but we just need to finish them off,” said Sanderson. “Our set-pieces need to be better too, so of course it’s been disappointing. It’s clear our decision-making in attack needs to be much better. Couple that with more discipline in defence and not giving away as many penalty points, and that’s what went wrong I think today. We just gave Quins too many points.
“I’ve just said to the lads that has to be the exception there, not the norm. We’ll have a miserable Monday but we have to come back in on Tuesday now and get back on the horse.”