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Eddie Jones’s fears over Marcus Smith sum up rugby’s outdated, backward mindset

Eddie Jones is worried about Marcus Smith being distracted by fame and praise, but that’s the sort of old-school mentality that is holding rugby back.

There should be an attempt to raise the profile and popularity of the game because it hasn’t really progressed that much in the past decade. At one point it was the No 2 sport in the country, but others have promoted themselves better.

Other sports have created superstars — and are very proactive in doing so — but rugby has never done that. The game is almost failing in that way, because of outdated attitudes towards any individual who receives attention.

England protege Marcus Smith has the world at his feet and clearly loves the game

People know the names of footballers and they support individual players, as well as teams. It’s not just football, in basketball there are individuals who I follow and think are great but I don’t follow a team. It’s the same in the NFL. It’s the individuals who get you interested in the game.

If Smith gains a much higher profile and is recognised as a superstar, that is great news for rugby. Yes, he is going to earn a lot more money, which means some people around him might get jealous, but that is just the reality of sport. Rugby needs to grow and everyone has a role within that.

A picture came out showing Maro Itoje with Jay-Z. That shouldn’t be seen as a problem for rugby — as if Maro is being distracted from his job and it is detrimental to his career — it’s quite the opposite. The fact that Jay-Z even knows who Itoje is and has any involvement at all in rugby is good news for the sport.

The fact that Maro signed with Roc Nation — Jay Z’s agency — means that some of the biggest names and superstars are now keeping an eye on the sport. That is huge.

The fly-half played an eye-catching cameo in England's 69-3 win over Tonga on Saturday

The fly-half played an eye-catching cameo in England’s 69-3 win over Tonga on Saturday

With all the worries about child participation levels and the negative impression caused by concussion, this sort of high-profile attention can help the sport to grow. It presents a great opportunity, especially over in America, but in England too.

We have the most rugby players of any country in the world but we can be better in how we promote and highlight the game.

It is a gladiatorial sport which is tactical, technical and physical. Rugby is based on power but also speed. It covers a lot of bases.

You can market and promote players in a very positive light. But it is not happening because any attempts to raise the profile of players is viewed in a negative light by coaches.

The 22-year-old comes across as someone who can take all the attention in his stride

The 22-year-old comes across as someone who can take all the attention in his stride

This backward mind-set is unique to rugby. Everything in the game has moved forward except the commercialisation and promotion of it.

That side of the game has to develop, to make it stand out. There is no reason we can’t make rugby the stand-out sport in the country, behind football.

From my experience, the resistance to this sort of change is mostly coach-led, because they want to have a certain amount of control, especially when it comes to England. When you start playing for England, the fanfare grows exponentially. It is huge. Stuart Lancaster tried to control that in the media and now Eddie tries to control that in the media.

By letting players be themselves, have a profile and promote the game, that feels to them like they are losing control — in my opinion — but that is wrong. 

It shows that these players are not fazed by the big occasion and attention, and you want that when it comes to World Cup semi-finals and finals. You want them to be full of confidence in the spotlight, to be able to handle any scenario, in any company.

But England coach Eddie Jones has told Smith to be wary of getting distracted by the attention

But England coach Eddie Jones has told Smith to be wary of getting distracted by the attention

Of course, players have to prove that they won’t be distracted by fame, but I think Smith comes across as someone who can take all that in his stride. He is in a stable relationship and he’s unbelievably confident, with the world at his feet.

He handles everything with such grace. Even the way he scores and celebrates is so energetic and passionate, it’s almost child-like in terms of the raw excitement. You can see he loves the game — that is infectious.

You don’t get to see that passion often enough. I remember people talking to me about scoring tries and you’d almost have to hide your celebration and hide how happy you were.

There were times I scored for England and I wouldn’t celebrate at all because I’d be thinking: ‘What are the coaches going to be thinking of me if I do this or do that?’

When you look online, you realise that Jones does plenty of commercial stuff. I was looking on Twitter and saw pictures of him kissing a crab in some advert!

When you look online, you realise that Jones does plenty of commercial stuff. I was looking on Twitter and saw pictures of him kissing a crab in some advert! 

That’s how it was. I also remember what it is like as a young player who comes in and plays well for England. Your agent suddenly gets lots of calls. You get offered lots of sponsorship deals. You get offers to do with going to events. If you look at me back in the day, I never went to any of those events.

I turned down big-money deals with companies like Brylcreem and Nike. I could have earned more money during my career, but I wanted to look like I was doing things the right way, the rugby way, because I could see how negatively things like that were being viewed by Martin Johnson and others.

But players now shouldn’t feel that way. They shouldn’t feel uncomfortable about trying to earn a good living. Rugby careers can be very short. We play an unbelievably physical game. Guys put their bodies on the line every week for long seasons. 

If you look at the salaries, they haven’t massively improved. The game hasn’t moved on that far financially. You don’t see rugby players doing many commercials — pushing and promoting the game and earning that sort of money off the field.

When you look online, you realise that Jones does plenty of commercial stuff. I was looking on Twitter and saw pictures of him kissing a crab in some advert!

England lock Maro Itoje (left) with Jay-Z at the London film premiere of The Harder They Fall

England lock Maro Itoje (left) with Jay-Z at the London film premiere of The Harder They Fall

It made me wonder: ‘Where is the line?’ Players aren’t going to step over that line within the England set-up because, ultimately, if you are playing for England, you are setting up your family for life.

You aren’t going to bite the hand that feeds you, because that’s what the scenario seems to be. But Eddie is able to do his own sponsorship and commercials and promote his name in the game.

He sells his book and goes around the world making appearances, but it seems to be frowned upon if a player tries to do the same thing. I think there shouldn’t be a hierarchy like that. 

People aren’t going to go and watch England because Eddie is the head coach. People are going to go because they want to see Smith, Itoje, Kyle Sinckler, Ellis Genge, Henry Slade and Adam Radwan — people with electric qualities and talent and personality. Those are the type of people that kids look up to. They are the players that kids want to watch.

We have a group of players representing the country who are very diverse, from all different walks of life. They are much more relatable than any group of English rugby players has ever been. It’s a great opportunity to really maximise that. It’s time to create some superstars.

Danny Cipriani will be writing for Sportsmail throughout the autumn internationals.

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