Representing your nation is generally considered the pinnacle of any sport – it’s an honour and a luxury awarded to few, and one that’s typically accepted with both hands.
These are not typical times, however, and England prop Joe Marler has done what some would consider unthinkinable by turning down the opportunity to play test football.
While Marler was initially named in the England squad to contest the 2021 Six Nations, he subsequently withdrew himself from the team, with the 66-test prop taking to social media to explain his decision.
Always grateful for the opportunity so not an easy decision, but want to do right by my family in these crazy times and won’t be meeting up with the squad for this tournament. Look forward to watching the team rip in. Go well ? x
— Joe Marler (@JoeMarler) January 25, 2021
With the COVID-19 pandemic having a major impact throughout the UK, Marler is understandably resistant to ‘expand his bubble’ to include his England teammates from across the country.
While there are, of course, vocal minorities who suggest that the pandemic is a storm in a teacup, Marler is choosing to prioritise his family’s health and, in somewhat of a surprising but heart-warming twist, the occupants of Twitter have come out in support of the 30-year-old’s decision.
Good to hear that it’s family first. Families of elite sports players must pay quite a price. This is possibly a step to far, so good on you. The on-field banter will suffer ?
— Peter Anscombe (@PeterAnscombe) January 25, 2021
— Quinssa (@QuinssaRugby) January 25, 2021
Seems like the only right choice for a man with youngsters during lockdown. The family will be so pleased to have you around. Strong decision making. Maybe we’ll even see you at The Stoop too.
— Andy Booth (@Misericord) January 25, 2021
You’ll be missed but if this bloody virus has taught us anything it’s that nothing matters more than your family. Stay safe ??
— S J Hammerschmidt ? #StopRacism ?????? (@sjhammerschmidt) January 25, 2021
Can’t imagine anything worse than being away from my family for 8 weeks either. Must be a really tough decision as bet there aren’t many better things than playing rugby for England!
— Nick Auger (@NickAuger88) January 25, 2021
Marler initially retired from the international game in 2018 but was coaxed back into the national set-up by Eddie Jones in the lead-up to the 2010 Rugby World Cup.
The England prop isn’t the only player to remove himself from the Six Nations selection equation, with Italy and Wasps fullback Matteo Minozzi also taking himself out of consideration.
While fans were understanding of Marler’s situation, many also expressed concern that the Six Nations is going ahead at all, with France, Italy and Ireland all experiencing similarly high infection rates at present.
The right decision in these difficult times. Shame the RFU don’t have the balls to cancel the 6 nations this season!
— bythebush (@bythebush) January 25, 2021
A wise decision. As much as rugby runs in my veins and I can’t wait to see the lads play, I’m not convinced that elite sport should be happening right now, especially not a tournament that involves international travel.
— Star (@_LancStar) January 25, 2021
It’s the right decision Joe.
Family must come first.
The tournament should be cancelled totally for this year.
— Bill Rutherford (@BillRutherford1) January 25, 2021
The Six Nations is set to kick off on February 6, with Italy hosting France and England hosting Scotland. With Marler removing himself from the squad and Manu Vunipola absent through injury, Jones will be on the lookout for some test-quality loosehead props to fill the void left by their absences.
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