Quins legend Nick Evans helping heir Marcus Smith on path to top

Smith made his Harlequins debut against London Irish in the double header at Twickenham. Rob Newell - CameraSport via Getty Images

Harlequins' past and future in the No. 10 shirt went head-to-head in Guilford on Friday lunchtime. Injuries meant that they were a fly-half light for training and as such backs coach Nick Evans, who retired in May following an illustrious career, was thrust into a couple of drills.

On the opposing side of the field to the former All Black was Marcus Smith, the precocious 18-year-old talent who it is hoped will prove to be his long-term heir as the club's playmaker.

Evans enjoyed his moment back among the playing ranks, but knows that his job now is to coax the best out of his young protégé, for whom there are high hopes not only at club level. Once the session was over the pair stayed out on the training pitch for close to an hour practising kicks.

Smith was included in England's preseason training camp by Eddie Jones before he had made an appearance in the Aviva Premiership. He will make only the second start of his fledgling career when Harlequins travel to Wasps on Sunday, but the fracture Demetri Catrakilis suffered to a bone in his throat last weekend could mean he is tasked with dictating their attack for the next month, at least.

"There was talk that the academy [year] coming through had some really good kids in it," Evans tells ESPN.

"Then when I got into the proper coaching side of things, when I came back from my time off, there was word of Marcus. And he had been training with England, so I thought 'jeepers, he must have a bit about him'."

Evans, who ended his nine-year Harlequins career as the club's record scorer with 2,249 points, decided to take a closer at the young playmaker. And he was not disappointed by what he saw.

"He's a great young kid. He's got no ego about him, he wants to learn, he's about what's best for the team and what he can do himself to make the team better which is really great," Evans adds. "He's just got this knack of just knowing where to be at the right time, probably more so in attack than defence at the moment.

"But attack-wise with his hands on the ball, he's just really gifted. He's one of those guys, he gets it."

Smith's ascendency to the elite level has been meteoric. He had not yet received his A-Level results from Brighton College -- where he first caught Jones' eye while training with the national team -- when the England call-up arrived last month.

Since then he has made his first start for Harlequins, at Twickenham, while he came off the bench with less than 13 minutes gone last Saturday to lead his side to victory over Gloucester despite sitting out of training the previous week as he completed return to play protocols.

"He's got a great attitude," Harlequins academy coach, Warren Abrahams, says.

"Off the field probably [he's] a very quiet guy, very humble, but when you put him in between the four lines, in his position, he'll boss things. He'll play like he plays and he won't change things if he doesn't need to change things. He's one of those guys who likes to play what he sees."

Sunday's match should challenge Smith. He is yet to play competitively for the first team outside of Twickenham, so travelling to last season's beaten Premiership finalists represents something of a step up.

Then there is the fact that he will line up opposite Danny Cipriani at the Ricoh Arena. It is a decade now since the Wasps fly-half was the young England hope, but most teenagers would buckle facing someone they grew up watching on TV.

Luckily for Harlequins, Smith is not most teenagers. "He loves to be challenged. You can't just throw an average drill at him, you've got to really challenge him in some way," Evans, who compares Smith to a young George Ford, says.

"That's why in games he looks so comfortable, because he sees it as a big challenge to himself to rise to that occasion."

There is no doubt in Evans' mind that Test caps are "not too far away" for Smith, and Harlequins director of rugby John Kingston has stated that the 18-year-old has been picked on merit and not due to fitness concerns over his colleagues.

Of that performance against Gloucester, Evans says: "He missed a pretty easy kick, he kicked one ball dead and for an 18-year-old kid, you'd expect most of them to go into their shell, try and hide, not be involved in the play.

"But he didn't do that. He stepped up and he was the major factor in Charlie Walker's try. That shows temperament for a start, it shows really good resilience as well.

"He'll need that this weekend against Wasps."

Smith is by no means the finished article, and while he is starting games the club is taking a patient approach to his overall development. Evans suggests he has the head of a 24-year-old on the body of a 17-year-old but he knows he cannot overload the youngster with "too much rugby, too much running around, too much weights."

Instead, there is a desire to make sure Smith is enjoying himself while he learns his trade on the highest stage. It's a far cry from the circumstances in which Evans himself learnt his trade, in the amateur rugby union and Aussie Rules clubs of North Harbour, New Zealand.

"When I was 18 I was down at the docks cutting off fish heads down at the fishmongers and chasing birds around. He's probably chasing birds, but he's playing at the highest level. It's a bit different," Evans says.

"I just want to give him the right information he needs from me to get the best out of him here and develop him, and hopefully see him reach his goals which would be playing for England."