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How a chicken run helped to keep isolated Marler fit to face Boks

By Liam Heagney

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Joe Marler has confirmed he is fit and well and will be taking his place as the replacement loosehead on the England bench for this Saturday’s Autumn Nations Series finale versus the Springboks at Twickenham. The prop, who tested positive for Covid-19 on November 8, only came out of isolation at home on Thursday night but he has since linked up with Eddie Jones’ squad and trained with them at Pennyhill Park on Friday morning.

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That training eradicated any doubts over Marler being the bench back-up to rookie starter Bevan Rood and he went on to demonstrate how much he is looking forward to the prospect of taking on the Springboks by appearing at an England media briefing not long after training had finished.  

The 31-year-old Marler was wickedly entertaining across the eight-minute live section of the session, taking time in between some cracking answers to eat some soup and generally illustrate that all is fine in life despite the enforced isolation that ruled him out of last weekend’s England win over the Wallabies.  

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Freddie Burns on whether the Springboks will target Maro Itoje and Marcus Smith
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Freddie Burns on whether the Springboks will target Maro Itoje and Marcus Smith

It kicked off with his health, how was Marler feeling after being in isolation for ten days and how did he manage to keep his fitness ticking over knowing he wasn’t going to be able to train with the England squad until Friday’s captain’s run prior to Saturday’s first clash with the Springboks since the World Cup final 24 months ago?

“My taste buds aren’t back – headline news – and it is really upsetting me,” he quipped. “My kids are fine, my wife is fine. They managed to escape it because I spent the first five days at home wearing double masks, washing my hands loads, not touching anything, not touching them and then sleeping in the spare room. They somehow managed to avoid it which is great. 

“How did I keep fit? About two years ago we had a big chicken pen built and unfortunately my dog died on the same night that a fox ravaged my four chickens that we had in there, so I had this pen bit that I could do some running in and I have got a gym in my garage, so I just kept on top of that and then tucked in to a bottle of red a day just to keep things going and I managed to make it back which I am really grateful for, the opportunity to come back in and to try and contribute in some way.”

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What awaits Marler on Saturday with England is the daunting prospect of coming up against the famed Springboks front row. How will he approach the challenge? “Head on. I thought about this, you know when you get adrenaline, adrenaline is used to fight or flight… to stay and fight or to leg it because you are scared. That is sort of how I feel with Springbok front-rowers and their scrummaging and their passion for it. 

“It is very much a fight or flight and I run towards the fight side of it and I love it because all six of them, you could even look at their third-string front rows and go arguably they are all world-class operators. That is what I want to do, I want to test myself against the best and in the hottest environments. I am really excited about it.”

It is two years now since Marler was one of many England players left for dead in Yokohama by the mazy run that took Cheslin Kolbe all the way to the try line in the World Cup final. What does he make of not having to face a nemesis from 2019? “Very good, really good, I thought it was going to be a scrum angle (question) from you and then you hit me even harder with the dagger and I want to use a word that would be considered mean and inappropriate but I won’t use that so I am very happy, thanks.”

The session quickly moved on to a query referencing the England fight club that was talked about earlier this week by Matt Proudfoot, their scrum coach. It prompted the seated Marler to stand up and to hold up his leg to the camera at the virtually held media session. “You see them? They are my boxing boots. I have got them on. I am always ready. Can the fight club defuse the bomb squad? We will give it a good try.”

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The high jinx continued with Marler asked what is he like as a boxer. “What am I like in the ring? It will come as no surprise that I am incredibly dirty and don’t stick to any of the normal boxing rules. I am more of a bar fighter, probably a cheater. 

“I don’t really like fighting. It’s like fake toughness. That feeling after you have had a fight, the comedown after a fight and the shakes it gives you and the emotion you end up with after a fight is one of the worst feelings so I just avoid doing that.

“Gengey [Ellis Genge],” he added when asked who was England’s best boxer. “You don’t want to get on the end of one of his. He is naturally powerful and he is also really horrible and aggressive. That combination and the fact that he is obsessed with Mike Tyson, I am just going to avoid him like the plague.”

Genge isn’t available for the match for the Springboks as he is in isolation after he tested positive for Covid last Friday. That diagnosis resulted in the uncapped Bevan Rodd being hurriedly promoted into the starting line-up last Saturday to beat the Wallabies and the 21-year-old will now wear the No1 jersey again against the Springboks, only this time with Jamie Blamire, another inexperienced Test player, for front-rower company as the starting hooker.

What will the pair learn against South Africa? “They will learn it steps up,” reckoned Marler. “Like the Australia game for someone like Bevan was huge. It was his debut, but it was probably a bit of a blur, the week the way it went for him and then just getting in there and don’t think about it and crack on and he did a really good job at that. 

“And then the fact that he is going to have to back it up against the best in the world, I hope it will learn him that international rugby is relentless and you have to be on top of your game the whole time in order to even just get parity in the game. But also I hope they learn that it is one of the best places to be. 

“You want to play in these environments that are just against the best, the biggest, in front of 80-plus thousand, on TV, it is just really enjoyable to do. I hope they learn that, that they are not daunted by it and they just thrive in that and want to do it again and again and again.”

 

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