Smith still isn't sure France star Dupont knows of him despite heroics for Saints in Europe

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"It is quite funny because my mates were all taking the p*** out of me, saying 'do you reckon (Antoine) Dupont knows who you are now?'. Probably not."

That's the reaction of Saints star Fin Smith when asked how it feels to be on the shortlist for the 2024 Investec player of the year award.

Smith and club-mate Courtney Lawes are part of a stellar cast of nominees, with Toulouse scrum-half Antoine Dupont, Harlequins fly-half Marcus Smith and Leinster quartet Caelan Doris, Jamison Gibson-Park, James Lowe and Dan Sheehan also in the running.

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Saints face Leinster in a mouthwatering Champions Cup semi-final at Croke Park on Saturday as their players stake their claim for the top European honour.

Fin Smith (photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images for Investec)Fin Smith (photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images for Investec)
Fin Smith (photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images for Investec)

And Smith was keeping his feet on the ground as he discussed the lofty recognition he has received at the age of just 21.

"You can't read too much into it and with the way the season is going for us, it's pretty hard to get excited about that when you've got big game after big game," Smith said.

"While it's nice to get the recognition, I'm not letting it affect me too much."

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And rightly so as Smith has his focus fully fixed on the huge test that awaits him in Dublin this weekend.

"I'm really excited for it to be fair," he said.

"We had a bit of a history lesson on Monday about the history of Croke Park, and it was actually pretty eye-opening.

"I sat there with goosebumps, thinking 'blimey, I'm really lucky to be part of the history that comes with this fixture and the ground we're playing at'.

"It's an unbelievable opportunity for us so I'm trying to keep as calm and relaxed around it all as I can because I know by game time I'm going to be raring to go.

"It's really special and it's going to be hostile.

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"We're coming up against the best team in Europe for the past four or five years so what better place to go and just have a go?

"A lot of people have written us off but we're confident within the tight group of us that we can go out there and at least put up a fight, but hopefully go one further than that.

"We're properly up for it."

Smith won his first England caps during the Six Nations as his meteoric rise continued.

He made the move to Saints following the sad demise of Worcester Warriors in October 2022 and has gone from strength to strength for the black, green and gold.

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And he says playing in front of huge crowds is something he has gradually learned to deal with.

"It's something that's taken a bit of time to start having a positive effect on me," Smith said.

"It was probably something that would make me massively go into my shell if I was sat here two or three years ago.

"But the more you do these things, the more you learn to be in the moment and savour them because these are the ones you're going to look back on in however many years and think 'that was pretty cool'.

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"I'm excited for the occasion, it's going to be nothing we've ever experienced before in terms of the passion from the Irish crowd and what's to come, but it's going to be a really good one."

So will Smith be feeling any nerves ahead of this weekend’s huge encounter?

"It's more before the game you're thinking about having a big kick or something like that, but once you're out there, you're fully focused and it's just your job to try to knock them over for the team regardless of the noise,” he said.

“I'm sure I'll feel nervous but once I'm out there, hopefully it will feel like any other game.”

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Smith showed no signs of being overawed back in January as he produced a fly-half masterclass to steer Saints to a 26-23 win against Munster at Thomond Park.

"We can't take too much out of the Munster win in terms of the rugby side of things but there's a lot to be said in terms of facing a passionate Irish crowd and Irish team and having confidence we can go over there and win,” he said.

“We're looking forward to it and facing big crowds is something I've got a lot better at over the past few years.”

But can Saints really expect to beat a Leinster side who are huge favourites to reach the final?

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“They're a great side, there's no two ways about that, but we've had a little look at a few trends they've got and we're going to go there and hopefully not let them settle into their rhythm too much,” Smith said.

“Anyone is amazing when you give them all the time and space in the world so it's our job to pose them some questions and then see how they respond.

“We've had a good look and we're going to go there and try to give them our best.

“I'm going to try to take it all in and enjoy being out there as much as I can.”

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