Joe Marler thankful for successful England return after break from rugby
Joe Marler is enjoying his rebirth as an England player after admitting that at one stage last year he "didn't care" about rugby.
Marler ruled himself out of the June tour to Australia knowing he was not in the right frame of mind following a turbulent few months that reached their nadir when he was banned for two weeks for verbally abusing Wales prop Samson Lee.
By missing the triumphant series against the Wallabies he had jeopardised his England career, but he has since re-established himself in Eddie Jones' starting XV aided by a fresh perspective on his sport gained during the break.
"I didn't know how it was going to pan out," the Harlequins loosehead said.
"At that point I didn't care...without sounding like....of course I care, but at that point I was like, 'that is not important to me'.
"Instead, I wanted to go away with the family for five weeks and actually spend some time with the kids, enjoy it, come back to pre-season with Harlequins and hit it hard and see where I ended up.
"I had to make that judgement knowing that I may not get back in the squad again. As well as Eddie took it, there was always that chance.
"Stepping away from rugby a little bit and making more effort with my family, and realising that they are my number one priority and the thing that I enjoy most, has helped on the field. Doing less is more in that regard."
Having served his suspension for calling Lee "gypsy boy", Marler then received another two-week ban for kicking Grenoble hooker Arnaud Heguy.
Knowing he needed to address his temperament, he spent time with sports psychologist Jeremy Snape and entered the current season with a strategy to curb the red mist - while at the same time acknowledging boxer Mike Tyson's quote that 'everyone has a plan until you get punched in the face'.
The 26-year-old has avoided any disciplinary lapses, including in the recent 21-16 RBS 6 Nations victory over Wales that brought him face to face with Lee once more.
"I have not been punched yet which is a surprise, especially in that Wales game," he said.
"I hadn't seen Samson since last year's incident so we had a smile at each other and then had a good catch-up afterwards. It was good to see him. There was never any beef between me and Samson Lee."
Marler is set to continue in the number one jersey against Italy on Sunday despite the availability of Mako Vunipola, who made his first appearance since December in Saracens' Aviva Premiership defeat by Gloucester on Friday.
Vunipola's rampaging open-field play propelled him to the top of the pecking order but Marler, whose strengths lie in the set-piece and in defence, insists he feeds off the competition.
"Over the years we've always had, not really a good battle for the shirt because that implies there's a bit of friction between us, which there never has been - it's always been friendly, helping each other out," he said.
"It's great to have Mako back. The competition is still there with Ellis Genge and Matt Mullan but Mako, like he showed in the autumn and the summer, is that different calibre - and that's not being disrespectful to the other boys involved.
"He's set the standard for what a loosehead does in the way he plays the game. He's a great character and he brings a lot to the squad, on and off the field."
Marler has appeared in Farmers Weekly since revealing that drinking two pints of milk each day enabled him to make a spectacular return from a fractured leg in time for the Six Nations opener against France.
"I have had a lot of milk companies get in touch with me! I am still drinking a lot of milk actually. It's very good for you," Marler said.
England have confirmed that Anthony Watson trained fully on Tuesday, placing him in contention to face Italy after almost a month out with a hamstring problem.