- South Africa summer Tests provided confidence boost for Joe Marler
- Team knows results are crucial this autumn – says loosehead
As far as Test debuts go, playing South Africa in their own back yard is a difficult one to eclipse in terms of physical and mental demands.
For Joe Marler, who made his first international appearance for England against the Springboks last June, the examination was at its sternest given he was facing up to one of the most formidable front rows in Tendai "Beast" Mtawarira and the Du Plessis brothers (Bismarck and Jannie).
The Harlequins prop had featured as a traveling reserve for the 2012 RBS 6 Nations but never made it into Lancaster’s match day squads. However, his performance in the first Test in Durban, in which England narrowly lost 22-17, showed he had been paying attention to his peers. He secured the No.1 shirt for the rest of the series and has now been chosen by Stuart Lancaster to start against Fiji on Saturday.
“It was good, really good,” says Marler about his experience against the Springboks. “It was a huge learning experience for me. There were tough times but also some really positive moments which gave me the confidence to know I can play at that level.
“The biggest thing is confidence. As far as the three Tests go they are all a bit of a blur. The biggest thing for me was getting those games under my belt and realising the intensity of Test rugby. You don’t get second chances and you have to take them when they come along. It’s just about kicking on now and raising the standard further.”
Honeymoon period is over – Marler
This autumn's QBE Internationals will provide the perfect opportunity for Marler to do just that. Although Lancaster has options in the front row, Marler’s ability to adapt to the physicality of the international stage has made him the prop of choice for what should be a bruising encounter at Twickenham.
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His physical presence and exuberant style have got him into trouble in the past, receiving a three-week ban for striking during a victory over London Irish last season. But Marler says he has developed mentally and is now more controlled in his approach:
“I have been known for being a bit too overboard but I have learnt my lessons and now really understand my responsibility for the team. My actions in the past may have caused problems, such as being sin-binned and putting extra pressure on my teammates. I know it’s a physical game but it’s not UFC or boxing. It's rugby.”
Lancaster may have put the emphasis on bringing through new talent such as Marler this year, but now there is a sense around the England camp that it's time to deliver. Marler says that everyone within the England setup knows that results are paramount this autumn and key to progress.
“We got some good results on the summer tour and during the Six Nations with the team that played," he added. "The tour was another learning experience for the group but we are all well aware that the honeymoon period is over. We all know we have to perform.”