Marcus Smith has become a potential shock bolter for the British and Irish Lions’ tour of South Africa, the Guardian understands.
The 22-year-old flyweight has been in great shape for the Harlequins this season and is believed to be part of the 50-plus squad to have received a letter probing him about his potential availability this summer.
Smith, born in Manila but capped at different age group levels for England, has yet to make an appearance in the Test, meaning he would be the first uncapped member of a Lions team since Will Greenwood on the 1997 tour of South Africa if Warren Gatland includes him in his 36-man squad on Thursday. That would be a huge surprise given the strength of the fly-half options available to Gatland, but the fact that Smith is on the head coach’s radar shows the esteem in which he is held.
Gatland is still expected to pick his fly halves from Owen Farrell, Dan Biggar, Johnny Sexton and Finn Russell, but Smith’s potential involvement – given he’s on the Lions’ long list – is one considerable curve ball. England’s first cap in their summer games against the United States and Canada may be even more likely, but if Gatland found his contingent of frontline fly-halves depleted from injury, Smith could end up on the plane to South Africa.
Smith’s form coincided with a resurgence of his Harlequins half-partner Danny Care, who would also be in the mix for Gatland’s final squad. The 34-year-old has not played for England since winning the 2018 Autumn Test against Japan, but his club form has put him in contention for a first Lions tour. The fact that Ben Youngs has excluded himself from the conflict only helps Care’s cause in a position seen as one of the most open. Conor Murray, Tomos Williams and Gareth Davies are also believed to be in the frame.
Other players who weren’t in the Six Nations but would be on Gatland’s radar include Manu Tuilagi, who has not returned to action since his Achilles injury in September. Also in the frame are Sam Underhill and Sam Simmonds of Bath, the No.8 Exeter who continues to shine for his club despite being repeatedly overlooked by Eddie Jones. Courtney Lawes, who suffered a chest injury during the Six Nations but is expected to return before the end of the season, is also said to be under consideration, but it would be a bet for Gatland to choose himself or Tuilagi given their long layoffs.