Finn Russell's Achilles injury has led Warren Gatland to bring in Harlequins out-half Marcus Smith to the Lions squad as cover - and Ronan O'Gara thinks it is a savvy choice.
Smith was playing for England at Twickenham on Saturday as the Lions warmed up to face the Sharks in Pretoria. Warren Gatland revealed the news of Smith's call-up in his pre-match interview, meaning Smith will likely find out about his Lions call-up at full time in London.
Former Ireland out-half Ronan O'Gara was on Sky's punditry team for the Lions' game with the Sharks, and he complimented Gatland's decision to bring Smith out to South Africa.
SQUAD UPDATE 📋
Head Coach, Warren Gatland, has called up Harlequins and England fly-half Marcus Smith as injury cover for Finn Russell, who remains with the squad.#LionsRugby #CastleLionsSeries #LionsSA2021 pic.twitter.com/5EmPPPc9I7
— British & Irish Lions (@lionsofficial) July 10, 2021
ROG excited by Marcus Smith's Lions callup
I think it's unbelievably exciting for a 20-year-old. Imagine his feeling coming off Twickenham, he's delighted, and all of a sudden he's getting on a plane to go down to South Africa.
I agree with Geech in that it is like for like, I think it would probably be a different decision if Owen Farrell or Dan Biggar got injured, I think that's when you have a goal-kicking 10 coming out, like Johnny Sexton, someone like that who can manage the game.
I think this is a very smart move in that it is like for like and it is a bit of a Mulligan in that you try and introduce him with very little pressure - and he's someone who can potentially alter a game after 50 minutes.
ROG went on to reveal he had researched Smith and his career to date, but moved quickly to quell any rumours of the English fly-half signing for La Rochelle, where O'Gara is head coach.
I don't know him but I've done a bit of research on him - nothing to do with trying to sign him!
He's 22 and he's played over 120 games for Harlequins. Interestingly, Ugo Monye told me, usually when you quiz the younger players they say 'I want to play for England', but he didn't blink an eye and said, 'I wanna be the best player in the world.' That's something that stays with you, and it's a big comment to make, but from what we've seen so far he's well on his way to having a good crack at it anyway.
🏉 Marcus Smith is a Lion! 🦁
Amazing! What a year! pic.twitter.com/Jp9W8P3gvT
— The Good, The Bad & The Rugby (@GoodBadRugby) July 10, 2021
It's been a tricky week for the Lions. Aside from the new injury issues surrounding Finn Russell, COVID scares and postponed matches have seen the tour of South Africa described as a farce.
Nonetheless, O'Gara was adamant that the tour will still be a special one for those in the squad, and that nothing would change the experience of playing for the Lions.
This is everything they dream of as a young kid to do and I think...yes, it's difficult with COVID but it's not the end of the world, they can get on with it and they can get something out of it. Memories for the rest of their lives, and I think it's important that I state that this is everything you train for, you want, and you want to be involved in. Imagine Marcus Smith now how happy he is.
The callup of Marcus Smith to the Lions squad was certainly an unexpected one, but his exciting playing style will hopefully bring a bit of flair to the warmup games in South Africa.