Joe Marler has revealed he had to adopt an emergency position at England scrum training during the Autumn Nations Cup campaign. The loosehead hasn’t been capped since last March’s Six Nations win over Wales at Twickenham.


However, ahead of Sunday’s Nations Cup final versus France, Marler has revealed he was used to add his weight in a temporary England second row in partnership with Joe Launchbury.

Apparently, Ellis Genge grew tired of not getting sufficient weight from behind from back row Jack Willis, who had been helping out at lock during scrum practice leading into last weekend’s win over Wales in Llanelli.

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Dylan Hartley and Jamie Roberts talk Autumn Nations Cup and what could make rugby a better spectacle

That led to Marler, who was standing unused on the sideline, being rushed in to replace Willis and calm Genge’s fears about what was unfolding at the England training ground set-piece.

The Marler revelation was unveiled when he made a guest appearance on the England Rugby podcast in the company of host Dylan Hartley, the retired former England captain and hooker, and his fellow loosehead Mako Vunipola, who has withdrawn from Sunday’s final versus France due to injury.

Vunipola was Eddie Jones’ first choice No1 this autumn in three of the four matches, with Genge providing bench cover, and he was due to start again versus the French before an achilles injury ruled him out. Genge will now start with Marler providing cover off the bench.


During their podcast appearance, what unfolded with the three front row forwards was a fascinating insight into the dynamics of the front row, a discussion sparked by Hartley asking the loosehead pair had they seen the scrum change during their long careers?

MAKO VUNIPOLA: It has changed in terms of you have to got do more than set-piece. It’s not changed in you are only ever judged on set-piece. Everything is the scrum and lineout and if you can’t do that you can’t play pretty much. But what is expected of you is not just to do that, you have to get around the pitch and do your other bits as well. That is probably the biggest difference, there is more emphasis on everything else you do but nothing has changed in terms of unless you get the scrum right won’t play. 

JOE MARLER: How much the scrum has changed as well, you look back at some of those scrums ten years ago when we first started. 

MV: Do you remember when we crouch, touch, pause, engage?


JM: Oh my god, and it would be like a metre-and-a-half run up into it.

DYLAN HARTLEY: It is a lot safer now, the changes have made it a lot safer and a lot more technical whereas back in the day it was crouch, touch, hold, engage, there wasn’t even a pause there. Fly into that gap and good luck, the heaviest and biggest team wins basically. 

JM: It was carnage.

DH: What do you love about scrummaging or is it something you have got to do? Do you love it?

JM: I love it. I love it because it is one of the few opportunities in a game that is like a controlled skill where you are one on one and eight on eight and only you and your front row and the opposition front row can affect things here rather than someone running too quick. It’s that sort of head-on head battle with the opposition. 

MV: It’s the only one really. The only one where you are going head to head to beat your opposition. 

DH: I love how you are saying it is like a closed skill effectively, but it is like a collective closed skill. Everyone looks and front row and when there were scrum pens left, right and centre all everyone talks about in comms is the front row. So just like when a lineout goes wrong, it’s the hooker, when a scrum goes wrong, it’s the front row. But can you give an insight into the collective, how you rely on everyone around you? 

JM: During the week we had scrum training and we were shy of a second row and they put, was it Jack Willis? Yeah, last week it was Tom Curry who got binned out of the second row and this week it was Jack Willis and Gengey was not happy. He was right I’m not getting enough here and I was spare and he said Marler have you got your 21s on? I went yeah and he said get behind me. So there was me and Joe Launchbury in the second row. 

DH: That’s a heavy second row.

JM: Heavy but the difference Gengey had in having someone able to push behind. What I am trying to say is the importance of having some weight, especially Sloshbucket’s weight?

DH: Confirm who Sloshbucket is, please?

MV: Don’t do it. He is going to absolutely kill you. Sloshbucket has actually got so many nicknames it’s a joke. Sloshbury.

JM: No, leave him alone, leave him alone. Leave Biscuit alone. Leave him alone. Anyway, the point I was trying make is that without weighty second rows giving us that support from behind you are pretty much null and void as a front-rower. It’s all about the collective. 

DH: Have you got a better understanding of what your second row go through? Is it a place of comfort or a place of attrition?

JM: I have a lot more respect for them now. Put it that way. 



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