- Conor O'Shea on the rationale behind promotion of new captain Joe Marler
- "Joe is an outstanding, natural-born leader" – Harlequins Director of Rugby
Conor O’Shea is expecting the force of new captain Joe Marler’s personality to unite Harlequins and drive his diverse squad forward into an exciting new era.
In a somewhat surprise move from the canny former Ireland full back, the 24 year-old loose-head prop will lead Quins despite the presence of England captain Chris Robshaw at the Twickenham Stoop.
But O’Shea has outlined why the change can bring the best out of Marler, Robshaw and his whole playing group, extolling the leadership qualities of a young man he once chose to skipper his England Under 18 side when he was an RFU age-grade coach.
“Joe is an outstanding, natural-born leader,” said O’Shea, who guided Harlequins to the Aviva Premiership title in 2012. “He’s played 20-odd times for England and he’s played over 100 times for us.
"Forget the Mohawk, he’s a very, very serious thinker"
“I’ve always known what qualities he’s got and we want to marry the young group of 24 and under players we’ve got coming through at Quins – Clifford, Wallace, Trayfoot, Matthews, Merrick, Towmey, Sinckler, Collier, Buchanan (I’ll get in trouble if I forget to mention anyone), Yarde, Walker – with the players everyone knows about.
“Chris has been incredible for the last four seasons and will [continue to] be for England – we want him to lift the World Cup. But we thought physically and mentally making this change would be good for him. He can lead England into a home World Cup but Joe will put his own imprint on us and lead us into a new and exciting chapter.”
Marler has become a key figure for England since a Test debut in South Africa in 2012, starting 20 of the last 22 matches. His boisterous, out-going personality has made him a hugely popular figure in the group but O’Shea said that should not mask the impression of a deeply committed individual.
In the same way he told Robshaw to be himself instead of trying to be Will Skinner or Andre Vos when he assumed the captaincy four years ago, O’Shea has urged Marler to bring his own brand of leadership.
He said: “I want Joe Marler to be Joe Marler. Forget the Mohawk, he’s a very, very serious thinker about the game. He knows the game inside-out and can feel the ebb and flow of games. He’s massively, massively respected among the playing group, both old and young, and he’s got an opinion.
“He’s not a shrinking violet, he’ll tell you what he thinks and he’s taken it by the scruff of the neck. It’s a big thing taking over from Chris Robshaw, the most successful captain we’ve ever had.”
Finishing on Robshaw, who has lead England on 27 of his 28 Test appearances, O’Shea said that the 28 year-old will continue to be as important as ever in setting the tone in matches and training.
Using a succinct example to explain the pressures on an international and club captain and how the change will allow Robshaw to be mentally refreshed, he added: “Chris will express himself like he always does; he was made captain because he was last of the pitch and he’ll still be last off the pitch.
"Being England captain in any sport is tough"
“England play Australia in a Test match [on November 29], with all the media that has gone around for four weeks. The following week leads into a Heineken Cup match against Leinster but Chris won’t have to do any of the media, that will be Joe’s responsibility.
“Chris can take that break and ease a bit of the pressure on him. Being England captain in any sport is tough and I just want him to be the best he can be for Harlequins and then I want him to be the best England captain he can be.”