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'I’m here to be really horrible, nasty to you... in the politest way'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Joe Marler arrived upstairs on Wednesday afternoon at England base camp in Le Touquet-Paris-Plage with an ice pack curiously wrapped tightly around his left knee. “Just hurt it,” he deadpanned when quizzed about what had happened.


“I just faked it so I could get out of training. Cold? Yeah, it has got ice around it. Rest, ice, compression, and elevation,” he added, suddenly raising his leg for effect and resting his foot on the back of a chair.”

Will it rule you out versus Japan this Sunday in Nice? “Not in the slightest. I am available for selection,” he insisted, switching back to serious mode from the silly. That’s the thing with Marler, a 20-minute media session will see him fluently fluctuate from the banal to the benign and onto to dead serious in the space of a few sentences.

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That’s just like his current behaviour during the vision access part of Egland training. Take these past few days: During the five-minute loosener before activities properly start, he has repeatedly shouted verbals that rendered footage unusable unless the audio is dubbed or silenced.

Then when the whistle goes, there is not a peep as the need to impress Steve Borthwick and co took over completely. Marler has so far managed that, getting a chunky role off the bench in last Saturday’s Rugby World Cup opening-round win over Argentina and he is now in the frame for another run versus the Japanese.

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The runes had it that the English were there for the taking last weekend, that the mess Borthwick inherited last December from Eddie Jones had only gotten worse and that their underdog status versus the Pumas would be proven correct by a win for the South Americans.

Not so. England inspired and one of the areas they took much heart from was their scrum, a set-piece that required the presence of midfielder Manu Tuilagi packing down to alleviate the loss of openside Tom Curry to a third-minute sending-off.


Loosehead Marler, who was thrust into the action on 54 minutes with England 18-3 up on route to their 27-10 win, was chuffed, especially by the steps forward taken by the pack. “The scrum is in a really good spot; the weekend showed that,” he beamed.

“We have put a lot of work into our scrum. We knew where we were at. I think it was Cockers [Richard Cockerill] who came out after (Matt) Proudfoot had left and we were the lowest in tier one in terms of stats, own ball, opposition ball, pens won, pens lost etc.

“We were known through the referees to be a reckless, unstable scrum and that we had to do a lot of work to try and change that perception because ultimately perception is reality and we are in a really good spot.

“The young boys have done really well, they are listening to the old boy in Coley [Dan Cole]. He is the old boy, let’s have that written down as well, please. And the freshness of Tom Harrison, as a young coach, has brought some new ideas.”


It’s safe to suggest then that this current environment is much to Marler’s liking and the commitment away from home isn’t the issue it might previously have been.

“Having been out of the previous environment for 18 months and then coming back into Steve’s environment and experiencing it for the first time in a World Cup camp and now here (in France), there has been a huge difference in terms of how a lot of the group have felt.

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“How they feel they can be, who they can be, how they can behave – and that has had a massive effect on how they are approaching training, how they are enjoying themselves both on and off the field.

“For me, I just try my hardest to encourage that environment, to keep that consistent because it does need work, it doesn’t just happen. It does need work to keep on top of that to make sure you are checking in on each other for long periods of time away from home from families and the intensity of a World Cup bubble.

“I can’t speak for the others, but it looks that way. It looks like a lot of the boys find it easy. I always found it very easy to be myself whether it was under previous regimes or under this one because, you know, I couldn’t give a f***.

“You want to go to a place and enjoy it and the more comfortable you can be, the more you will get out of it but there has to be a balance. It can’t be, ‘Be yourself, have fun and when it comes to training that actually leaks into it, into performance’.

“You need to flick the switch, not switch the flick, on and know the difference. We have done a lot of work on trying to get the younger group to understand that and it has started to feel like they are giving it a bit more now.”


Now 33, Marler came out of international retirement post the 2023 Guinness Six Nations to give Rugby World Cup selection a rattle. His minutes have so far been restricted, making just one start and having three runs as a sub in the five matches that England have played in the warm-ups and at the tournament itself.

Is that limited activity an issue? “I said to Steve way back in May, or whenever I had that awkward ‘look me in the eyes’ chat, whatever role you need me to play I’m here and that’s still the case. Whatever role this squad and Steve and the coaches need me to play, I’m here.

“You have had to hear loads of time about my troubles of leaving home and the stuff that I struggled with, my mental health, in the past. I’m not putting my family through the wringer unless I am fully committed to something and wanting to be here. So yeah, whatever role I play in any game I’m on board.”

Marler’s next chance potentially comes on Sunday against Japan, an opposition that prompts him to delve into a football analogy. “The best way to describe them is probably like Kev Sinfield’s description, like Barcelona tiki-taka. A lot of movement. They look like a really impressive team when they are moving the ball. Diligent. We are expecting plenty of that for the weekend.

“Our goal ultimately is to win. That is the main goal. Ideally, we would try to keep it away from their strengths, which is them having the ball. They are far stronger with the ball than without it. We might go down that route.”

If Japan are Barcelona, which football team is Borthwick’s England? “I wouldn’t be able to give you a comparison because I only follow the mighty Seagulls [Brighton] and I wouldn’t say we are Seagull-like, no. That is the only one I can give you on that front.”

Does Marler, though, dig Japanese rugby and the way it has transformed from being a Rugby World Cup afterthought into something potent at recent tournaments? He does. “I remember watching that Ireland game in 2019 in a bar or a coffee house out with a couple of boys and the atmosphere was insane from the Japanese in there, it was incredible and a massive result.

“We don’t want to be one of their victims so to speak with what they did in 2015 with South Africa and what they did to Ireland in 2019. We know how good they can play if you allow them to play that way. We might come undone in the same way. I’m impressed with the way they play, I enjoy watching them, I do enjoy the way they go about their business.

“As a nation and as a culture in 2019, it is one of the favourite places I have been to and experienced. Loved it. The people were wonderful, as I am sure the majority of the rugby team are as well. But I have got no interest in how nice you are when we get on the pitch. I’m here to be really horrible and nasty to you and I expect the same from you in the politest way possible.”

He rates the Japan scrum as well. “It definitely gets underrated. They are not the biggest packs in the world but they are technicians. The height at which they scrummage is their strength. The work Marc del Maso did with the Japanese pack, I used to love him standing on top of the scrum, being underneath it, and that seems to have followed through.

“Their scrum seems to be a weapon. There is a theme here, they have got a lot of weapons that are strong if you allow them to use them. Hopefully for us we won’t allow them to use their weapons. Please don’t take the analogies seriously. There have been other ones in the past with wars, I’m not doing that… Christ almighty!”

Losing to Fiji at Twickenham on August 26 will now be of benefit in ensuring that England are mentally spot on and in no way complacent going in against a team ranked lower than them. “There might have been (complacency) had we not already faced that challenge in playing a Fijian side that were ranked below us at the time and that we were expected to beat and we didn’t.

“So actually in hindsight that result and that experience for this group to have gone through has teed us up perfectly for this week. On paper we are expected to beat this side, rankings and all those statistics go with it. But we are not looking at it like that because as soon as you do that, that is what things start coming undone and then you get a result like we did against Fiji.”

Whatever happens, Marler is at peace with his role in the game. “I don’t feel comfortable on the field, it’s horrific. It’s the most uncomfortable place in the world but I love it.

“It is tough, there are lots of moving parts, but I think for me it’s about my intent and my intentions. That is what I am going after and I won’t get it right every time, it won’t be perfect. I’ll miss a tackle, the tackle might be a wrong type of tackle, I’ll drop a ball, I’ll get my bind wrong at a scrum. My intention isn’t that I’m wanting to do that.

“But the moment that I accept that will be happening, that it won’t be perfect, I am just concentrating on what I am getting up to next, what’s my intent to move onto the next job and get on with it. And it is hard, it’s moving parts all the time.”

Any solutions to try and make that task easier? “One more year and I’m out,” he quipped. “I can’t be bothered to come up with any of that. I’m more than happy to pick loads of holes and not come up with any solutions and then just leave never to be seen again.”



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Jon 23 hours ago
Why Sam Cane's path to retirement is perfect for him and the All Blacks

> It would be best described as an elegant solution to what was potentially going to be a significant problem for new All Blacks coach Scott Robertson. It is a problem the mad population of New Zealand will have to cope with more and more as All Blacks are able to continue their careers in NZ post RWCs. It will not be a problem for coaches, who are always going to start a campaign with the captain for the next WC in mind. > Cane, despite his warrior spirit, his undoubted commitment to every team he played for and unforgettable heroics against Ireland in last year’s World Cup quarter-final, was never unanimously admired or respected within New Zealand while he was in the role. Neither was McCaw, he was considered far too passive a captain and then out of form until his last world cup where everyone opinions changed, just like they would have if Cane had won the WC. > It was never easy to see where Cane, or even if, he would fit into Robertson’s squad given the new coach will want to be building a new-look team with 2027 in mind. > Cane will win his selections on merit and come the end of the year, he’ll sign off, he hopes, with 100 caps and maybe even, at last, universal public appreciation for what was a special career. No, he won’t. Those returning from Japan have already earned the right to retain their jersey, it’s in their contract. Cane would have been playing against England if he was ready, and found it very hard to keep his place. Perform, and they keep it however. Very easy to see where Cane could have fit, very hard to see how he could have accomplished it choosing this year as his sabbatical instead of 2025, and that’s how it played out (though I assume we now know what when NZR said they were allowing him to move his sabbatical forward and return to NZ next year, they had actually agreed to simply select him for the All Blacks from overseas, without any chance he was going to play in NZ again). With a mammoth season of 15 All Black games they might as well get some value out of his years contract, though even with him being of equal character to Richie, I don’t think they should guarantee him his 100 caps. That’s not what the All Blacks should be about. He absolutely has to play winning football.

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