Joe Marler is ready to tackle Ireland’s “pastry chef” prop Mike Ross having shaved off the beard that drew criticism from former England coach Sir Clive Woodward.
Marler sported a bushy beard in England’s 38-18 victory over Scotland, having initially told his partner on New Year’s Eve that he would grow one for 88 days.
Woodward scalded Marler for his hirsute look, saying: “You do not see Olympic 100 metres runners or Tour de France cyclists with beards. Rugby at the top level is a fast, athletic, power game. The same rules apply.”
Marler has responded by trimming the beard to stubble – but he laughed off the idea he would suddenly be too quick for Ireland to handle in Sunday’s RBS Six Nations game.
“I haven’t got a beard any more and have a bit of stubble because it apparently makes you go faster,” Marler said. “So, we will see on Sunday whether I will be skinning Brian O’Driscoll on the outside. It’s unlikely.
“Clive is entitled to his opinion. If I am scoring a try from 50 metres out and skinning everyone, maybe he has got a point!”
Harlequins star Marler has always caught the headlines for his appearance, having sported a multi-coloured Mohican hair-cut before deciding to grow his beard. But he would much rather be known for his rugby.
Marler impressed against Scotland, slotting neatly into England’s more expansive new style and providing a nice pass to Joe Launchbury that led to Chris Ashton’s try. “It’s the brand of rugby Quins have been trying to do for a while and it’s starting to pay off,” he said. “And coming into this environment it’s not much different. It’s the positive way we want to play rugby.” Marler was in the Harlequins academy when Ross, now the Ireland tight-head prop and a late developer as a top-class player, was in the first team.
Ross was nicknamed the “pastry chef” by Nick Easter, although the hierarchy at Harlequins meant Marler never deigned to call him that. “I know he’s turned into a pretty reliable and tough scrummager for Ireland through playing week-in, week-out for Leinster,” Marler said. “It will be a really big test. There are a lot of tight-heads out there who are pretty wide. He’s no different. He’s a quiet guy and I was in the academy. That’s how the system works. You have to earn your stripes first.”
England’s opening win against Scotland was comprehensive, but Marler knows they must improve against Ireland, who beat Wales last week after a rampant first half. “Ireland pose different challenges to Scotland,” he said. “We did pretty well for 50 minutes against Scotland but we know there were times when we could have been more clinical. There are other areas to improve on and we will try to do that against Ireland.”
England’s more experienced players – the likes of James Haskell and Dylan Hartley – recall with a grimace the defeat to Ireland in 2011 which cost them a Grand Slam. But Marler was not involved that day and has a different reference point, the infamous 20-minute hammering England suffered in Johannesburg in the summer.
“It’s a new era in the England camp and we are looking ahead,” he said. “I have no interest in the history of previous games like that. I was not involved. The experiences we went through in South Africa are something we have learned from as a group. They are our ‘go to’ memories for us to kick on from.”