One of rugby’s more colourful characters, and one of England’s best props, has returned to international contention ahead of this autumn’s World Cup in Japan. Revoking his decision to retire from England duty, made in September 2018, Joe Marler has since been included in Eddie Jones’ wider training squad, and looks well placed to add to his 59 caps.
According to Jones, the two have been in regular contact, and after Marler indicated he was willing to make himself available once more, the decision to offer the 29 year old another shot was made, with Jones, “delighted to give him the opportunity to come back and compete.”
Whilst Jones was full of praise for Marler, lauding him as, “one of the best props in the world,” he was quick to establish he would not walk into the final 31 man squad, declaring firmly, “he’s not guaranteed a spot.” Clearly, when Jones says ‘compete’ he expects Marler to prove both his worth and commitment all over again.
It was for family reasons, specifically the desire to spend more time with his young children, that Marler retired after an excellent performance in the 3rd Test of the summer tour to South Africa. Question marks therefore linger, can a player reluctant to leave his family really commit to a month of tournament rugby in Japan? Ultimately, that is Marler’s decision to make, and if he says he is ready, then he must be treated as so.
Marler’s performance for the Barbarians, against England at Twickenham, was the most recent indicator of his undoubted quality, and rich vein of form. He has also been lauded as one of the Premierships most consistently excellent performers this season, and so his inclusion, given his newly established availability, is not surprising.
Amongst those expressing their happiness to see Marler return to the England fray were teammates Ben Youngs and Elliot Daly. According to Youngs, “The carrot of the World Cup has probably made him think he wants to be a part of it — he obviously missed it.”
Addressing the issue of family, Youngs was sure Marler will be ready for the personal side of the World Cup challenge, stating, “I’m sure he wouldn’t have come back without some kind of coping mechanism to make sure he doesn’t beat himself up for being away. He wouldn’t have made this decision lightly.”
Daly added, “Joe is an unbelievable character and a senior player. You know he’s going to come back and fit in straight away. He’ll be welcomed back with open arms. It gets morale up to have a character like that around the squad.”
The inclusion of Marler, alongside other form players such as Willi Heinz, Ruaridh McConnochie, Lewis Ludlam and Danny Cipriani, will be greeted positively by England fans, as an indication that Jones is fully committed to selecting his best players for the autumn.
Excluding Cipriani for most of his tenure had led many to believe Jones was prioritising his personal preference for old favourites (Mike Brown and Dylan Hartley spring to mind) over ability and form, and while there is no guarantee any of these players will make the final 31, their inclusion is surely a step forward for England. If nothing else, Marler will make things more interesting.
Written by Joe Ronan