Harlequins and England fly-half Marcus Smith has received a surprise call-up to the British and Irish Lions squad in South Africa, head coach Warren Gatland has confirmed.
Smith, who only made his England Test debut last week vs the USA at Twickenham, is fresh from guiding Harlequins to a stunning Premiership triumph after enthralling 43-36 and 40-38 victories over Bristol and Exeter in the semi-final and final respectively.
Scotland No 10 Finn Russell is managing an Achilles complaint, and though not thought to be tour ending, Smith has been called up to provide adequate cover at No 10.
The 22-year-old’s call-up comes ahead of Ireland captain Johnny Sexton, who toured with the Lions in 2013 and 2017, and England teammate George Ford.
“It’s a slight tear in Finn Russell’s Achilles, they injected it today, and hopefully we’re going to manage it and see if we can get him through the next couple of weeks, and as a result we have called up Marcus Smith to come out on Sunday,” Gatland told Sky Sports on Saturday.
“He’s been absolutely outstanding, I’m a big fan of his. I watched him play last year and thought he was really, really promising.
“He’s been having a great year for Harlequins and is obviously playing for England now.”
With Sexton and Ford still at home, Gatland was next asked by Sarra Elgan in Pretoria for Sky Sports ahead of Saturday’s clash vs the Sharks: Why Smith?
“The reason we’ve gone with Marcus is just how well he’s been playing,” Gatland added.
“He’s been playing regularly in recent weeks, obviously winning the Premiership with Harlequins, and playing with England now.
“He’s kind of a similar player to Finn Russell as well, so it’s sort of a like-for-like replacement in terms of how he plays the game.
“We’ve got two really experienced 10s [Dan Biggar, Owen Farrell], so hopefully he [Smith] might add something exciting and a little bit new to the squad.”
The Lions are facing the Sharks for the second time on tour on Saturday, live on Sky Sports Action and Sky Sports Main Event