Marcus Smith emerges as shock possible Lions pick for South Africa tour

Marcus Smith has emerged as a shock potential “bolter” for the British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa, the Guardian understands.

The 22-year-old fly-half has been in fine form for Harlequins this season and it is believed he is among the group of more than 50 players to have received a letter sounding him out about his potential availability this summer.

Smith, born in Manila but capped at various age-group levels for England, is yet to make a Test appearance, meaning he would be the first uncapped member of a Lions squad since Will Greenwood on the 1997 tour of South Africa if Warren Gatland includes him in his 36-man squad on Thursday. It would be a considerable surprise given the strength of fly-half options available to Gatland but the fact that Smith is on the head coach’s radar demonstrates the regard in which he is held.

Gatland is still widely expected to select his fly-halves from Owen Farrell, Dan Biggar, Johnny Sexton and Finn Russell but Smith’s potential involvement – given he is on the Lions’ long list – is a considerable curveball. A first England cap during their summer matches against the USA and Canada may still be more likely but, should Gatland find his contingent of frontline fly-halves depleted by injury, Smith could find himself on the plane to South Africa.

Smith’s form has coincided with a resurgence by his Harlequins half-back partner Danny Care, who is also thought to be in the mix for Gatland’s final squad. The 34-year-old has not featured for England since the 2018 autumn Test win against Japan but his club form has put him in contention for a first Lions tour. That Ben Youngs has ruled himself out of contention only aids Care’s cause in a position considered to be among the most open. Conor Murray, Tomos Williams and Gareth Davies are also thought to be in the frame.

Other players who did not appear in the Six Nations but are believed to be on Gatland’s radar include Manu Tuilagi, who has not returned to action since sustaining an achilles injury in September. Bath’s Sam Underhill and Sam Simmonds, the Exeter No 8 who continues to shine for his club despite repeatedly being overlooked by Eddie Jones, are also in the frame. Courtney Lawes, who sustained a chest injury during the Six Nations but is due back before the end of the season, is also thought to be under consideration but it would be a gamble for Gatland to pick either him or Tuilagi given their lengthy layoffs.