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Marler a joker but underestimate him and Quins at your peril

 

Big character: Joe Marler can be a screen for Quins’ quality
Big character: Joe Marler can be a screen for Quins’ quality

By Michael Sadlier

Joe Marler. He's not really the shy and retiring kind now is he?

Certainly when it came to literally retiring, the loose-head prop tore that idea up for the last World Cup.

But you get the general idea. Marler is a one-off, a maverick who can either be beneficial or, sometimes, find himself saying or doing the wrong thing at exactly the most damaging time.

Give him a mic, or point a camera in his general direction, and you are hardly likely to be disappointed. A media/showbiz career of some description is seemingly his for the taking when he finishes playing.

Anyway, when it comes to Harlequins he appears to be at the epicentre. As he has said during his now nearly 12-year tenure at the club, he's a pure "Quin".

In the wake of last weekend's Premiership win over Gloucester, only Quins' second of the season, he was caught on camera throwing some serious shapes in the changing room, the familiar shaved head moving in time (sort of) to the beat.

And there's more, much more. The 'horsey' interview he recently gave over Harlequins having to respond to their first-round European drubbing at Clermont was comedy gold.

It also worked as they just about beat Bath to avoid shipping two straight Champions Cup defeats.

It may seem all just flimflam but Marler is important to Quins, who, under the coaching of Paul Gustard, are moving away from the notion that they are mere also-rans with an unforgettable character out front.

Marler is no clown though. He is a good operator at scrum-time and a vital rallying point for the club, but he also serves another, perhaps unintended, purpose.

His dominant personality, both on and off the park, can help distract from the fact that Quins have a decent collection of players in their squad and, on their day, can go toe-to-toe with anyone.

Mind you, Kyle Sinckler, who returns for his first club game of the season, can challenge Marler's mantle for attention-grabbing cameos and particularly so as, this week, Quins have said that retaining him for next season - he is out of contract in the summer - may be beyond them.

Scrum-half Danny Care is the spark to so much of their play but there is quality sprinkled throughout the side.

The combination of Chris Robshaw, Semi Kunatani and Alex Dombrandt in the back-row is an impressive one and the latter's physicality caused Gloucester quite a few issues last Sunday.

Out-half Marcus Smith will keep Quins ticking along on the scoreboard while Michele Campagnaro has brought aggression to Quins' midfield.

Of course, Gustard's coaching has also had a considerably positive impact on the largely under-achieving London club after he came on board in summer 2018 from the England set-up.

A fifth-place finish in last season's Premiership - an improvement from 10th in the previous campaign - and a Challenge Cup semi-final told of Gustard bringing his expected harder edge, especially in defence, and, already, Quins have made the most tackles in the league (796) and won the most turnovers (36).

It's a work in progress with Marler out front, smoke-screening all the serious grafting.

Quins look to be hungry again to make their mark.

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