Joe Marler has perhaps learned the hard way how to put his health and his family ahead of his love for the “horrific” yet compelling challenge of Test rugby.
The Harlequins loose-head prop retired from the Test arena in 2018, was later tempted back for the 2019 World Cup in Japan, then found himself out of the picture in the early stages of 2022.
None of those experiences on the field, nor the family-led decisions to step back from the Test frontline, would have built up a picture of a Marler itching to go to the 2023 World Cup. But then Steve Borthwick overhauled the England set-up, and Marler found himself not just back in demand, but back with his interest piqued again.
Marler has found an England set-up so much more open than in previous years that he has told Borthwick he is ready to adopt whatever role England need from him.
“Whatever role this squad, Steve and the coaches need me to play, I’m here,” said Marler. “I’ve spoken to all of you [reporters] and you’ve had to listen loads of times about my troubles with leaving home and the stuff I’ve struggled with around my mental health in the past.
“I’m not putting my family through the wringer unless I’m fully committed to something, so whatever role I play at any game, then I’m on board.”
Marler is centred, relaxed, cheekily cutting and amusing all in one. This appears a particularly positive mix for a man who has long since been open about his mental health maintenance.
A sharp Marler is a happy Marler, and the hope from all would simply be for the 33-year-old to be able to find his niche and thrive within it. The 83-cap front-rower has the strength to step away from rugby, so choosing to walk towards the Test arena sees him just as transfixed with the game itself as ever.
“I don’t feel comfortable on the field, it’s horrific,” said Marler, offering an insight into the double-edged sword of elite competition. “It’s the most uncomfortable place in the world, but I love it.
“For me it’s about my intent. I won’t get it right every time, it won’t be perfect. I’ll miss a tackle, the tackle might be the wrong type. 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 that will happen, then I’m just concentrating on what I’m getting after next, what’s my intent to just move on to the next job.”
I don’t feel comfortable on the field, it’s horrific... it’s the most uncomfortable place in the world, but I love it
England had to overhaul their scrum in the Six Nations, particularly its perception in the eyes of referees.
Borthwick lamented taking over an England squad where everything was broken after Eddie Jones’s tenure fell apart. The new coaching group started work with the scrum in January, and the results have been largely positive.
Marler believes England have managed to alter the wider view of their set-piece, and hopes they can now reap the rewards of that hard work.
“I think the scrum is in a really good spot, I think the win against Argentina showed that,” said Marler, gearing up for Sunday’s clash with Japan in Nice.
“We put a lot of work into our scrum. We knew where we were at and that we were the lowest tier-one team in terms of stats on our own ball, opposition ball, penalties won and penalties lost.
“We were known by referees to be a reckless and unstable scrum, and we have had to do a lot of work to try to change that perception. I think we are in a really good spot.
“The young boys have done really well in listening to the old boy in Dan Cole. And the freshness Tom Harrison has brought as a young coach to bring some new ideas has paid off, too.”
Swiss watch brand TUDOR is the official timekeeper for the Rugby World Cup 2023. The All Blacks are also official ambassadors of the brand. For information, visit tudorwatch.com