Harlequins clung onto their unbeaten record for the season after Marcus Smith inspired a comeback of epic proportions at home to Bristol Bears on Friday.
England coach Eddie Jones watched on as Quins responded from 21 points down to hammer the Bears 52-24 at The Stoop, regaining their spot atop the Premiership standings in the process.
Louis Lynagh crossed over for two of the hosts’ eight tries in total, while Joe Joyce, Henry Purdy and Charles Piutau grabbed what turned out to be just consolatory scores for the visitors.
Mirror Sport breaks down some of the major talking points to emerge from the Premiership’s Week 4 opener, as well as how some performances could impact the upcoming autumn internationals.
Marcus Smith must start for England
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There can be no overstating a performance quite so transformative, with Smith making it seem as though he’d brought 14 men onto the field with him when he was introduced at 21-0 down after 25 minutes.
Delayed in his season debut as a result of his involvement with the Lions, it took the 22-year-old no time at all to get back up to speed as far as his club’s success is concerned.
Amid the current uncertainty over England’s fly-half position, what is clear is that Smith offers England’s back line something so staggeringly inventive that they’re almost obliged to at least give it a proper test.
He may not have started the Week 4 fixture, but that didn’t stop the youngster completing a joint-match high of four offloads in his 55 minutes on the field.
No moment captured Smith’s rare ingenuity better than his retreat chip-and-chase solo try, however, proving again that he’s capable of pulling off with ease the kinds of things no other current England fly-half can.
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Hand Alex Dombrandt the No. 8 reins
While we’re on the topic of Harlequins who deserve an immediate promotion in their England duties, man-of-the-match Alex Dombrandt is another who’s demanding more respect with every outing.
The 24-year-old plays with an intellect and maturity far beyond his years, and Friday’s was another example of how his influence stretches way beyond his 6’4″, 19-stone frame.
Dombrandt deserved man-of-the-match honours prior to intercepting for a late try of his own, and it seems all but certain he’ll add to his sole England cap this autumn.
With Billy Vunipola out of the reckoning while Tom Curry and Sam Simmonds are still yet to return following the Lions tour, Quins’ pack leader has the nous to emerge as the Red Rose’s new No. 8 of choice.
Bye weeks are going to be essential
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One wouldn’t have guessed it based on the opening 25 minutes at The Stoop, but Bristol might have a few questions to consider regarding their conditioning following that trip.
Numerous Bears could be seen with one knee on the turf even early on in the second period, with more of their players visibly wheezing than could be seen among the home contingent.
That turn of events isn’t so surprising when one considers Harlequins didn’t have a game in Week 3, although The Stoop’s crowd will have surely had its own influence in geeing up the players.
However, rugby has come to operate a lot more like American football in that certain players are now only built to play a certain amount of minutes, and the timing of bye weeks could lead to unexpected swings all season.
Cap Louis Lynagh – quickly
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One scorer on everyone’s lips right now comes from valuable stock, and Lynagh looks to be following in the footsteps of his father—Wallabies great Michael—after making a prolific start to life at Quins.
The winger once again displayed a killer eye for the line as he improved his record for the season to five tries in three games, one coming from close range and the other a lot further out.
Despite the fact Lynagh was called into England’s extended training squad in September, Australia coach Dave Rennie said on Friday that his side will continue their quest to convert until it’s no longer possible.
If Jones was in two minds about whether or not to retain the 20-year-old for the upcoming autumn series, he should now know that omitting him could well lead to losing the player altogether.
A home outing against Tonga on November 6 could be Lynagh’s first chance to earn a maiden England cap, with his father’s former team, Australia, set to play at Twickenham the following week.
Every team needs a Nick Evans
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It’s often so easy to get wrapped up in personnel and other factors that we sometimes forget players don’t decide matches—styles do.
There are rising costs relating to players and securing the best talents in rugby, but having an attack coach of Nick Evans’ calibre is worth its weight (and more) in gold.
The New Zealand native retired as a Quins legend in 2017, and bit by bit, the results of Evans’ high-energy, play-out-of-hand blueprint are sowing at The Stoop to devastating effect.
Granted, there may not be minds like Evans’ freely available on union’s coaching market, but his influence over the squad during his time in the role to date is evidence to the importance of making progressive appointments.