Lennox Anyanwu Interview: 'I'd liken Marcus to a Tom Brady, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant'

Marcus Smith's display at full-back against Chile will have given Steve Borthwick food for thought ahead of the World Cup quarter-finals
©David Howlett

A likening to Tom Brady, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. That is how Harlequins centre Lennox Anyanwu sums up teammate Marcus Smith.

High praise indeed.

Just over a week ago, Smith's dazzling performance at full-back against Chile shone the spotlight on a potential new dimension for England at the World Cup, and the 24-year-old's role as a second playmaker might be something Steve Borthwick will look to utilise again with a quarter-final place now confirmed.

We may even see the Quins star deployed in the 15 shirt for England's final pool match against Samoa on Saturday, but having lined up alongside Smith on four occasions at club level since making his debut in December 2020, Anyanwu knows first-hand about the world-class capabilities his teammate possesses.

"I wasn't surprised," Anyanwu said when asked about Smith's ability to seamlessly slot into the full-back position. "I think Marcus has been one of the best players in the Prem for five-plus years now.

"He'll be the same on an international level. Just get him the ball and let him do what he does."

Can Quins fans expect to see Smith emulate his recent performance in the 15 shirt at The Stoop this coming season? "I don't know", said Anyanwu but the youngster is much more certain on the international quality of Smith's approach to training.

His praise of Smith's daily influence at Harlequins could easily be mistaken for any number of tributes given to his international captain and fellow fly-half Owen Farrell: "I know whenever he's on the training field, there's a level of intensity that is not normally there," said Anyanwu.

"He wants to win training. He takes it past games. He wants to win every training session."

With Anyanwu having worked hard to break through at Quins last season after spending some time on loan in the Championship with Richmond, it is evident that Smith's drive is infectious. It's that unremitting attitude to training that draws broader, perhaps more illustrious acclaim from the young centre.

"I'd liken him to those American sports stars that you hear about with their work-rate and mentality. The Tom Bradys, the Michael Jordans, the Kobe Bryants. That kind of work-rate and mentality to get better, that's what you get from Marcus and that is what is shining now."

Whilst there are only two years between Smith and Anyanwu in terms of age, it is clear the Quins centre looks up to Smith and the same applies to now former club teammate Joe Marchant.

The 27-year-old, who will join Stade Francais ahead of the 2023/24 season, has featured in all three of England's World Cup matches thus far - starting against Argentina and Japan - and Marchant could well be the favourite to pull on the 13 jersey when the quarter-finals come around next week.

"Yeah, coming through the ranks at Quins, Marchant was massive for me," said Anyanwu, who came off the bench in Harlequins' 36-29 Premiership Rugby Cup win over Saracens at the weekend.

"I spoke to him loads growing up, and I was quite a lot younger. He's been like a regular face to see around the club which has been nice for us young boys and he's very helpful. An all-round nice guy, and also he's amazing on the pitch. He's always been there to talk to about stuff.

"Even now that he's gone to Stade, you can message him, send him a video and he'll still reply."

Quins complete their Premiership Rugby Cup campaign on Saturday against Nottingham after also facing Championship opposition in the form of Hartpury and Coventry last month.

Having experienced the second tier during loan spells away from Quins, Anyanwu feels this year's new format for the Premiership Rugby Cup will have benefited many Championship clubs: "I think it is very good because it reminds English rugby that the Champ teams can be as good as some Prem teams at times.

"It enables them to have more games, to have that exposure. I know there are some young guys at Champ teams that want to crack on and have a go at the Prem. To have that exposure to Premiership sides, to play against them, to feel the intensity is really really good. All it can do is raise the overall standard of rugby and England which is what is needed."