Joe Marler believes mavericks can thrive in Steve Borthwick's England

Joe Marler was told to get a haircut when he turned up for his first training session with a red Mohawk… now the prop believes mavericks can thrive in Steve Borthwick’s England

  • Danny Cipriani has claimed there is no room for mavericks within English rugby
  • Joe Marler suggested that freedom of expression is encouraged by new regime 
  • Latest Rugby World Cup 2023 news, including fixtures, live scores and results

When Joe Marler was first called up by England, as a rookie prop with a red Mohawk, he was told to get a haircut. Now, he believes the national team can benefit from more progressive attitudes in rugby.

The sport is slowly, belatedly, casting off its stuffy image and embracing the presence of unorthodox characters in its midst. Marler is certainly one of them.

Harlequins’ 33-year-old loosehead is known as a charismatic figure and he believes that he and other non-conformists are now being accepted by a sport which for so long treated those who didn’t fit into a standard mould with deep suspicion.

In this England regime, under head coach Steve Borthwick, Marler suggested that freedom of expression is encouraged and that has a positive impact on morale in the camp. ‘Having been out of the previous environment for 18 months, then coming into Steve’s environment, there has been a huge difference in terms of how a lot of the group have felt, who they can be and how they can behave,’ he said.

‘That’s had a massive effect on how they are approaching training and how they are enjoying themselves. It looks like the boys find it easy to be themselves. I’ve always found it easy to be myself under previous regimes and this one because… I couldn’t give a f**k! The more you enjoy it, the more comfortable you feel, the more you will get out of it.’

Harlequins and England prop Joe Marler (above) is known as a charismatic figure

The 33-year-old believes England can benefit from more progressive attitudes in rugby

At a time when he is promoting his autobiography, former England fly-half Danny Cipriani has argued that there is no room for mavericks within English rugby. When that was put to Marler, he disagreed, saying: ‘That is his experience. That is his story. That is not my story.

‘Is Cips’s book fiction or non-fiction? Do we know what section of the bookshop it will be in? I tried asking him the other night but he is not answering. I can’t deny his view on it; he is more than entitled to share that. But that is not how I see it.’

Yet, it used to be like that, back when Marler was an emerging front-row prospect who stood out because of his style, as well as his play. When he turned up for his first England training camp 13 years ago, his hair caused a stir.

‘I had a Mohawk,’ he said. ‘I think it might have been red or stars or something, with a rat’s tail at the back. I looked horrific.

‘I remember Martin Johnson coming down the steps at Pennyhill and he went, “Are you ready for training?” I said, “Yeah, definitely”. Then he said, “Are you going to have a haircut before training?” I was like “Um” — and he just walked off.

‘Some people might interpret that as, “He is being serious and you don’t fit the bill. This is how it is and you need to shave your hair off”. But I took it as, “He’s just joking”. Funnily enough, I was sent home the next day! But I think it had more to do with the fact Andrew Sheridan’s back recovered… I’d like to think!’

England head coach Steve Borthwick has had a positive impact on team morale

That exchange left Marler with an early conundrum; whether to ‘toe the line to a degree’ and fit in, or stay true to himself and accept there may be consequences. But he believes times have changed. He senses that rugby has been dragged gradually into a new era of enlightenment.

Asked if there is more individuality now, he said: ‘Definitely. Society has changed and rugby is getting there. You’re getting a lot more boys who are comfortable being themselves and being encouraged to be themselves. You’ll get the best out of players if they feel comfortable and they’re enjoying the work space that they’re in.’

Marler is enjoying it, without question. He has been acting as under-study to Ellis Genge at loosehead and is quite content, whether he continues to do that or is given a starting berth over the course of this campaign. 

‘I said to Steve way back in May, “Whatever role you need me to play, I’m here”,’ he said. ‘That’s still the case. I’ve spoken about my troubles leaving home — my mental health struggles in the past. I’m not putting my family through the wringer unless I’m fully committed and wanting to be here. So whatever role I play, I’m on board.’

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