- Loosehead expects All Blacks to be better in Dunedin
- Marler explains new-found mindset after two years at Test level
Precisely two years and two days on from his Test debut against South Africa in Durban, Joe Marler has become a pivotal part of England’s pack and – beneath a wickedly dry sense of humour – exudes the grounded mindset which characterises Stuart Lancaster’s set-up.
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Since making that full international bow in a 22-17 defeat to the Springboks, the Harlequins loosehead has featured in all but three of his country’s 23 games. Indeed, his 80-minute shift was instrumental in another dynamic, industrious display from Graham Rowntree’s forwards on Saturday as New Zealand were taken to the wire at Eden Park.
Despite a gut-wrenching 20-15 loss, England wrested ascendancy up front for long periods – most strikingly at the set-piece. A 100 per cent return from 13 lineouts complemented a scrum that fluctuated between rock-solid and destructive. However, while acknowledging a decent day at the office for England in those areas, Marler suggested the second Test at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin would be a different proposition.
“Our set-piece went well but we know we’re going to have to ramp it up again this weekend,” he explained. “They aren’t going to be as poor again.
“In terms of improvements we’ll want to be more clinical. We let ourselves down at times with some fairly easy drops. That’ll be a key area for us.
“They’d only been together a week before that game, so there will have been a bit of rustiness. We’re expecting them to come out even tougher.”
Repeating a message that has been prominent around the England camp this week – “we are not going to pat ourselves on the back” – Marler did admit that the tourists were pleased to have limited the influence of “world-class” New Zealand props Tony Woodcock and Owen Franks.
As a pair that boasts a combined total of 163 caps, they will doubtlessly come back stronger from a difficult night in Auckland.
Marler acknowledged as much himself. Even so, looking back on his introduction to the top level in June 2012 – where he came head-to-head with gnarled Rugby World Cup-winner Jannie Du Plessis – the 23-year-old stressed that getting used to experienced opponents has been a long process.
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“I remember being really nervous and not sure what to expect,” Marler added. “Then, getting out there, I was blowing for the entire 70 minutes I was on. It went pretty quick.
“I’ve enjoyed the past two years. It’s a great set-up and I feel like I’ve improved in most areas. There’s still a long way to go for me though, as there is for the whole group.
“I’m less in awe of players now. It’s more that I think: ‘I’ve actually got a job to do here, and if I’m standing around in awe of the man opposite me, I’m not going to do it the best I can’.
“[The All Blacks] might be world class, but we have world-class boys on our team. [Your opposite man] is just another bloke out on the field.
“You’ve just got to think like that, go out and try your hardest.”