Joe Marler admits he has a tough job to hold off fit-again Mako Vunipola in race for England spot… but who will be top of the props?
- Mako Vunipola is close to return from injury to boost England’s World Cup hopes
- Joe Marler started in wins against Tonga and USA with Argentina next opponents
- Marler insisted he will fight to keep his place in the front row during tournament
During a break from cracking jokes, Joe Marler delivered a serious, succinct verdict on the selection tussle among England’s loosehead props.
‘There are three guys going for two shirts, so that doesn’t work,’ said the 29-year-old Harlequin, who has emerged from Test retirement to re-establish himself in the front row.
Mako Vunipola has recovered from a hamstring injury and the Lion is ready to join the World Cup crusade — if Eddie Jones can find a place for him.
Mako Vunipola is fit again after suffering an injury before the start of the Rugby World Cup
At his best, Vunipola is arguably the world’s top loosehead, but he has had just 17 minutes of game-time since early May.
In his absence, Marler has been outstanding and Ellis Genge has impressed as a rampaging understudy. Something has to give.
‘It’s great to have Mako back and he’s been in training for the last couple of weeks,’ said Marler.
‘He’s fit and brings world-class experience and talent into that role. So… I’ve enjoyed my time.’
In the absence of Vunipola, Joe Marler has stepped up to start both of England’s early matches
When asked if he meant he expects Mako to be thrust straight back into England’s starting XV against Argentina on Saturday, Marler added: ‘I didn’t say that. I specifically didn’t say that.’
Jones and his assistants face a dilemma. Form or reputation? Scrum coach Neal Hatley said: ‘It’s really tough. We want that competition because we feel our players respond to that. They work hard. They want to be involved.
‘There is no pecking order. We know what players have done in the past, but this is about the here and now. It is about how they present themselves in training and how they add value to the team.’
The Saracens forward has a big task to unseat Marler from the starting position for England
Hatley saluted Genge and Kyle Sinckler for the way they have matured in recent months. He also paid tribute to Marler for raising his game.
‘Joe brings a real aggressive attitude to anything he does,’ he said. ‘He hits hard defensively and he is a good set-piece technician.
‘Towards the end of the season it was probably as well as he has played and he has carried that form through. Against Tonga, he was very good.
‘It is not often you see Tonga forwards getting speared backwards and Joe was at the forefront of that.
‘He scrummaged well against America and he is probably fitter than he has ever been.’
So, England may be reluctant to demote Marler to make way for Vunipola. ‘We’ll all have input on it and Eddie has the final say,’ said Hatley.
‘Sometimes you’re better off starting after a spell out of action with the adrenaline pumping rather than sitting on the bench.’