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Joe Marler is not really one for sporting memorabilia but two items at his home in Heathfield hold extra significance – a framed England shirt and a signed autobiography.
The former is from his international debut, while the latter comes via his rugby idol Jason Leonard and ahead of his 50th cap against Scotland both are timely reminders of Marler’s route to this point.
His rugby journey started as an 11-year-old playing for Eastbourne, and despite making his ‘debut’ at full back he looks back at his time for the ‘Sharks’ with fond memories: “We had a brilliant team,” he recalls.
His rugby hero was England prop Leonard who he met as a teenager, several years later they would meet again but this time as equals.
“I looked up to him, got his autobiography signed when he came to open Heathfield’s new rugby pitch. The next thing I’m playing for England, getting good luck messages off him and going for a coffee. I still have the book.”
Escorted off the premises
After success locally for representative teams he joined Harlequins Academy in 2008 and it could be said was always destined to play at the Stoop.
His first visit to the home of Harlequins came via a school trip and after being dared by his mates to run onto the pitch Marler soon found himself in the arms of security.
“The security guard stopped me so I mouthed off to him and was quickly escorted off the premises,” he recalls. “I always wanted to get on that pitch. It was my first club, they brought me through the academy and I have a sense of loyalty to them. It’s always been a club that I have loved.”
Marler’s transition through the Quins youth system owes a lot to the influence of academy manager Colin Osborne.
“He put me in the academy full-time; I hadn’t really taken it seriously until that point. Then I thought, ‘right I’d better make a go of this’. I had a choice between that or turfing at my uncle’s company. I haven’t looked back since.”
'I was 21, it was a blur'
The prop forward played for England at Under 18 and U20 level before a senior debut arrived in 2012 against South Africa.
“I was 21, it was a blur,” he recalls. “I remember singing the anthem and thinking it was a huge moment. I’ve kept my first shirt, that’s the only one that is framed. The others I give to charity.
“It feels like a long time ago. The starting front row was me, Dylan Hartley and Dan Cole.”
Marler is quick to play down the significance of today’s milestone – instead focussing on the immediate challenge in front of him.
“Saturday is a massive game for us in terms of the Championship. Scotland are coming down here in-form and that’s all I’m thinking of.”
'It's just so much fun'
And while Marler has the benefit of experience now, it is the arrival of his two children that has had the biggest impact on his life.
“It’s definitely changed me,” he said. “It’s made me more self-aware and less selfish. It has given me a better perspective on everything. Jasper is going to turn three next week, it’s just so much fun.”
As England line up in the tunnel on Saturday, Marler will lead the team out proudly before belting out God Save the Queen.
“I’m proud I’m achieving my goal of playing for my country. Every time I pull on an England shirt I love it.”Fans love the England match day programme, get yours at pplsport.com, by clicking here.