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Marler's availability is silver lining as Harlequins change 5 for first match since Gustard exit

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Dan Mullan/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

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Harlequins skipper Stephan Lewies has hailed the prospect of having England cry-off Joe Marler starting for the London club in Sunday’s Gallagher Premiership match at Wasps, their first outing since last week’s departure with immediate effect of director of rugby Paul Gustard.


Loosehead Marler had been included in the original England squad of 28 for the Guinness Six Nations when it was announced last Friday. By the following Monday, though, he declared himself unavailable due to the restrictions which meant too long a time away from his family because of the tight controls England are under in their bio-secure camp.  

The decision by Marler was openly accepted by England boss Eddie Jones, who stressed this didn’t mean the end of the prop’s Test career. And it has also been welcomed by Harlequins, who will now unexpectedly get the services of Marler at a time in the season when they thought he would be off-limits to them.   

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Ex-Harlequins winger Chris Ashton gives his first media conference as a Worcester player
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Ex-Harlequins winger Chris Ashton gives his first media conference as a Worcester player

“That is massive for us having Joe there, another senior player adding value on the pitch, having a cool head,” enthused Lewies at a Harlequins media conference. “He helps me a lot on and off the field, so it is a big one for us having him there.”

The South African second row’s inclusion in the team to play at The Ricoh is one of the five changes to the XV form the team that drew with London Irish on January 10, a contest at The Stoop that turned out to be Gustard’s final game in charge as he soon quit for a three-year assistant’s role at Benetton in Italy.  

“It has been a lot of emotions for us the last week or so but as players, we are in a blessed situation. If you compare us to the rest of the world, people in lockdown and sitting in their homes, we’re very blessed that we can go out and play with our mates.


“We just use that as motivation to work hard, concentrate on our job and not get distracted by all the things going on behind the scenes. I was surprised a little bit (by Gustard leaving). Some people had more info than others at different times. For a lot of us, it was a surprise.”

Lewies, who had been out injured, comes into the team for Glen Young, as does the recently suspended Andre Esterhuizen for James Lang. Aaron Morris for Cadan Murley, Danny Care for Scott Steele and Archie White for Tom Lawday are the other Harlequins changes for the trip to Wasps where a huge focus will be put on improving their defence.

“It’s a massive focus for us. Our discipline has been letting us down this season massively. That is probably our biggest work on. Without discipline, giving people entry into our 22. We’re giving quality opposition opportunity to drive at us from five metres out seven or eight times a game whereas we only get one twice that opportunity so that is going to hurt you. 

“Our discipline in defence has been a big work on but also in attack, we have such exciting players, if we can only keep a bit more possession and actually put pressure on other teams we would have to defend less and that would sort out some of the problems.”


HARLEQUINS (vs Wasps, Sunday)
1. Joe Marler (208 club appearances), 2. Scott Baldwin (25), 3. Wilco Louw (11), 4. Matt Symons (47), 5. Stephan Lewies (21) – capt, 6. Archie White (32), 7. Will Evans (28), 8. Alex Dombrandt (59); 9. Danny Care (289), 10. Marcus Smith (93); 11. Aaron Morris (54), 12. Andre Esterhuizen (8), 13. Joe Marchant (96), 14. Louis Lynagh (4), 15. Mike Brown (340). Reps: 16. Elia Elia (59), 17. Jordan Els (8), 18. Simon Kerrod (33), 19. Glen Young (27), 20. Richard de Carpentier (1), 21. Martin Landajo (22), 22. James Lang (73), 23. Tyrone Green (3).


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