Marcus Smith will now fly out to South Africa

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Fly-half Marcus Smith has been handed a shock call-up to the British & Irish Lions squad in South Africa to cover Finn Russell who has an Achilles injury. 

The 22 year-old only made his England debut last week against the USA but head coach Warren Gatland selected him ahead of far more experienced options in Johnny Sexton, the Ireland fly half, and George Ford. 

There is no doubt that he is a form option having guided Harlequins to the Gallagher Premiership title with an outstanding individual performance in the 43-36 victory against Exeter Chiefs. With his instinct to attack the gainline and to try the unexpected, he is the closest stylistic replacement to Russell, who pulled out of Saturday’s match against the Cell C Sharks with an ongoing Achilles complaint which will rule him out of at least the next three matches. Maro Itoje also dropped out of the starting XV with a gastric bug. 

Smith will fly to Cape Town on Sunday after starring in England’s routine victory against Canada at Twickenham. He found put about his Lions call-up in the Twickenham tunnel after being substituted (see images below).

“We’re obviously disappointed for Finn, who I think has been outstanding since he came into camp in Jersey, but we are optimistic he’ll still play an important role in the Tour,” Gatland said. “We have two experienced fly-halves in Owen Farrell and Dan Biggar, so it’s a great opportunity for the continued development of Marcus. 

“I’ve been following him closely for the past 12 months and I’ve been impressed with how well he’s matured as a player. Finn and Marcus are similar in that they like to play with a bit of freedom, so, for me, it’s as close to like-for-like cover as we can get. We look forward to welcoming him to the group in Cape Town.” 

It is another bold selection call by Gatland. Neither Sexton, who played in all the Lions’ Test matches in 2013 and 2017, nor Ford are involved in their countries’ summer international matches but are understood to be fit and available for selection. 

Smith only received his chance under England head coach Eddie Jones this summer because of multiple absentees.