'He knows when to suck in the big ones': How Marler repaid Harlequins' VIP treatment
Harlequins general manager Billy Millard has paid homage to the influence wielded by England loosehead Joe Marler on last Saturday’s Gallagher Premiership semi-final result. Rather than take the bus to Bristol with the rest of the team on Friday, the London club arranged for the prop to instead be flown by helicopter to the Ashton Gate match on the Saturday following the birth of his fourth child.
Marler more than repaid the expense of his VIP trip to the game as he played the entire 80-minute match – something most unusual for a Premiership prop – and he then also lasted 14 minutes of the 20-minute extra-time period before eventually giving way to Santiago Garcia Botta who helped Harlequins see out their remarkable 43-36 victory.
The 30-year-old front-rower was picked up at Tonbridge School near his home in Kent on Saturday and was flown to North Bristol RFC where he was collected by player welfare officer Andy Sanger to successfully round off the trip organised by team head of operations Graeme Bowerbank.
After outlining that his wife’s latest pregnancy was the reason why he made himself unavailable to England in the recent Guinness Six Nations, Marler went on to play a vital role in the upswing in results at Harlequins who finished out the regular season in fourth place despite the head of rugby, Paul Gustard, quitting the club in January.
Unavailability for England resulted in Marler featuring in 17 of Harlequins’ last 18 Premiership matches (16 starts and a single run as a replacement) and the energetic fashion in which he put himself about the place at Ashton Gate immensely helped his team to overcome a 0-28 deficit and it epitomised his importance to the club.
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“He is much loved,” said Millard when asked by RugbyPass to put into words the impact new-father Marler had on Saturday. “He has obviously had a new baba and that comes before anything. We gave him the time to be with his family and the club supported him through that. We had no doubt that he was going to come and deliver. He is an exceptional footballer and a man who cares deeply for the playing group and the club so there was no surprise there.
“We would have been asking him during the game how he was feeling and when he is done he’s done and if these boys are saying they have still got a bit in them, then we will listen to that. We have obviously got a lot of statistics and analysis and we know how long these guys can operate for and at what level, so that was all tracked and then in the occasion, you dig a bit deeper. He is an experienced campaigner who can pace himself. He knows when to go, knows when to suck in the big ones, and he did it really well.”
There will be no repeat VIP helicopter treatment for Marler next Saturday, though, as the Harlequins players and coaches will all walk to Twickenham from The Stoop for their final versus Exeter, a reprise of what the title-winning Conor O’Shea squad did nine years ago before they defeated Leicester in the decider.
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