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'This sport is shrinking': England prop Marler pens magazine letter

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

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England prop Joe Marler has sounded a dire warning for rugby, fearing that its appeal is shrinking and that more of an attempt must be made to get people who don’t notice the game to take an interest. The 31-year-old has enjoyed a renaissance in recent times, playing his way back into the Test squad under Eddie Jones and publishing his well-received autobiography, Loose Head

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Marler also added a second Premiership title to his list of honours. However, while it is safe to say that the status of the Harlequins front-rower as a popular standout character in the sport is in no doubt, he would like others to emerge to help grow rugby’s popularity.

The current issue of Rugby World magazine has addressed the issue of style in the game, picturing Marler on its cover in one of his trademark snazzy tracksuits which have been catching the eye in recent times when he turns up at the grounds before Harlequins games. 

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Eben Etzebeth | Rugby Roots
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Marler features prominently in the magazine, not only modelling some other tracksuits but also referencing the distinguished mohican hairstyle that drew criticism from people such as Martin Johnson when he was the prop’s England coach.  

However, he also wrote a welcome letter on page five of the magazine that outlined his concerns about the evolution of rugby and how it must act fast to encourage people within the game to show more of themselves in order to attract new fans from outside.  

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England loosehead Marler wrote: “As corny as it sounds, we are all individuals, no two people are the same. Yes, we’re in a team sport but you can still put your stamp on things. I love dressing up, I always have, and it shows another side of yourself that people don’t necessarily know. My tracksuits are a way to get people talking about more than rugby because rugby at times is very difficult to explain to people who don’t know the sport. Plus, it’s fun!

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“One of the big drivers for me, particularly going back and playing for England, is that I don’t want the new breed to make the mistakes I did, to feel that they have to go away from themselves, to not upset the apple cart because they might not get picked.  

“Away from individuality, this sport is shrinking. We all love the sport, play it, report on it, watch it, but it’s shrinking. People want more access to players, to connect with players and know who you are. Why wouldn’t you give that for the sport to grow and get bigger? 

“It’s taken me a long time to be comfortable with myself but having kids and seeing the impact meeting Gareth Southgate had on my son, Jasper, recently… If I can have a similar effect on someone who likes rugby as much as Jasper likes football and they want to engage in the sport, why wouldn’t I do that? 

“I remember when I first came through and had a mohican, people said: ‘You have to make sure you play well if you look like that.’ That works both ways – it forces me to back it up. 

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“People aren’t used to players not having a short back and sides or coming from a private school, but this is who I am, this is how I enjoy being. It’s not the norm for rugby but to grow the sport we have to appeal to different people. People who love rugby will keep coming back but we need to engage others.”

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