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In a bar, just outside the seaside surf resort of Aoshima, two rugby writers were discussing who should wear the No 1 shirt in the ‘team of the tournament’ being published the following day. After much discussion, responses of “ridiculous” and “yeah but what about”, one surprise name comes up: Joe Marler.
Marler wasn’t supposed to be here, at least not in Japan. Following the shock decision to retire from international rugby, England moved on from Marler and Marler moved on from England – the prospect of an eight-week campaign away from his family and recent arrival of his third child was exactly what the Harlequins prop wanted to avoid this time last year.
But here the 29-year-old is, having started all three of England’s pool games and back in the selection mix for Saturday’s quarter-final against Australia after recovering from a niggling back injury that had ruled him out of the France match that never was.
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From retirement to team of the tournament in 13 months. Not bad.
But there is a much bigger reason for Marler’s change of heart than making any select XVs. “I want to be part of a squad that wins a World Cup,” he says. “That was part of the reason I came out of retirement. I could see the potential in this group and I wanted a taste of that. That’s ultimately what’s driving me on for the next couple of weeks.”
The other part is that Marler feels he is in a much better place mentally than he was 12 months ago, when the pressures of playing for his country developed a resentment within him for international duty.
These extensions are quite huge.
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