Cadan Murley exclusive: What it's really like to live with Marcus Smith – and my England ambitions

Cadan Murley exclusive: What it's really like to live with Marcus Smith – and my England ambitions - GETTY IMAGES
Cadan Murley exclusive: What it's really like to live with Marcus Smith – and my England ambitions - GETTY IMAGES

To say Cadan Murley and Marcus Smith are hard to prise apart is an understatement. The pair are back together for Harlequins on the field at Exeter on Sunday – a welcome boost to the London club given the number of tries the pair combined to produce last season – but off it, they are also inseparable.

Murley and Smith are long-term housemates who have settled into a happy domestic routine – battling each other on Fifa, while learning to respect each other’s approach over washing up the dishes. Although, Smith early on had to hold his tongue.

“At the start, I could definitely see him on edge waiting for me because I wanted to chill out for a bit! It’s a good dynamic,” Murley explains. “I like to eat my dinner, chill, leave the things and tidy up a bit later.

“Marcus is very much eat, get it done, get it out the way. We have a different dynamic, but now we’re used to it, things seem to work out pretty well. Our first game together would have been under-16s at Quins, so seven years ago in the academy. On the field, that connection has built.

“We have lived together for the past four years, so whenever we’re doing analysis or watching training back, we’re bouncing off each other’s ideas. You know what the other person is thinking now, which is class.”

Sunday will be Smith’s first action of the season for Harlequins after being rested since England’s tour of Australia in the summer. If Murley continues running in tries and impressing at the breakdown, as he did last season, then even accounting for the increasing traffic jam of talented young wingers in the country, it is hard to see how he does not push his way firmly into Eddie Jones’s thoughts.

Murley is up and running with two tries for Harlequins this season, both against Saracens last weekend, and his name was already on the England radar after a haul of 15 tries in 23 Premiership games last season. He pins that high strike-rate on a couple of areas, starting with amassing as many minutes on the field as possible with team-mates, including Smith.

“It’s all about your connections and understanding people,” Murley notes. “I’ve played with Marcus since I was very young, I’ve played with Dommers [Alex Dombrandt] and DC [Danny Care] for four, five years. I’ve learnt to understand how they like to play. The more you have those connections and can read each other, it makes it easier to get over the whitewash.” Patience is also helpful, particularly during the patches when tries dry up.

Having an attack coach on hand in Nick Evans, the former All Blacks and Harlequins great, helps for advice. “It plays massively on your mind,” Murley says. “I like to get as many touches as I can, and they’re not all the big, flare-y carries. That’s a way you can help your team. You can get a run of games... I don’t think I scored until the third or fourth game last year. It just happens in rugby – sometimes it always goes down the other wing.”

The interesting question with Murley is what does he need to do to make the leap to Test rugby? His proficiency at the breakdown makes more sense when he explains that he played as a back row until he was 16, but “didn’t quite grow enough to stay there”. As for the other requirements of playing on the wing, he admits he is playing catch-up. “I’m just a bit behind and have to work on that a bit harder than the other boys who have played on the wing for a while.”

Competing in the aerial game is a core focus. Murley at 5ft 11in, is not as tall as Freddie Steward, England and Leicester’s 6ft 4in full-back, but being dominant in the air is less about size, and more taking charge of the space.

England selection Murley's burning ambition

“If you come on to the ball at pace and can dominate that space in the air, not many people can challenge you. Freddie Steward is probably the best in the world at that. He’s tall, obviously, which helps. But he dominates the space so well and no one can get in front of him,” Murley says.

“Confidence is a massive thing. As soon as you take one catch in a game, it keeps coming. But also technical ability, getting your timing right. That’s what Browny [Mike Brown] used to speak about a lot, and he was one of the best at it. He wasn’t the biggest man, but he commanded that air and his timing was brilliant.”

To his credit, rather than downplaying any Test hopes, Murley admits that playing for his country is a burning ambition. “One hundred per cent I think about it; it plays on the back of your mind. That’s obviously the end goal for any English rugby player.” There has been dialogue with England head coach Eddie Jones, advising Murley what he needs to work on.

Asking Murley’s Harlequins head coach Tabai Matson for his assessment, the verdict is clear: “We think he could go all the way.” At times, watching Murley, it is hard to disagree.