Joe Marler interview: All players should see a psychologist

Ross McLean
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Harlequins v Stade Francais Paris - European Rugby Challenge Cup
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Reinvigorated England prop Joe Marler has urged every professional rugby player to consider seeing a psychologist, having reaped the rewards himself.

The 26-year-old revealed in May that he was seeking professional help from a sports psychologist, former Northamptonshire, Gloucestershire and England spin bowler Jeremy Snape, to address a “lack of professional control”.

Marler’s admission followed the award of a two-week ban for kicking Grenoble hooker Arnaud Heguy in a European tie and suspension for referring to Wales forward Samson Lee as “Gypsy boy” during the Six Nations.

The behaviour of England players is back in the spotlight this week after skipper Dylan Hartley was slapped with a six-week ban for striking an opponent, although it is not only disciplinary issues which Marler believes sports psychology can assist with.

“Sport psychology is too often looked at as a bit taboo and it’s not,” Marler told City A.M.

“I think every player should explore it because it’s not just players who have an issue with discipline or an issue with self control, it explores all sorts of areas of the game.

“It explores confidence, it explores your thought processes in different situations and it has helped me with bits and bobs. I would recommend it to every player because it is a huge part of the game now.

“I would definitely recommend it and not just to those involved with indiscretions in the past.”

Following a turbulent few months, Marler opted to rule himself out of contention for England’s summer tour of Australia, citing physical and mental exhaustion and a need to recharge his batteries.

The Eastbourne-born forward returned to the international fold for this autumn’s showdowns with southern hemisphere rivals as England equalled a national record of 14 successive victories set by Sir Clive Woodward’s 2003 vintage.

Unlike the Six Nations, Marler could no longer be viewed as first choice. He had been overtaken by the power and poise of Saracens’ Mako Vunipola as the country’s premier loose-head and had to be content with cameo appearances from the bench.

“Mako is in a class of his own and I am way off that,” added Marler. “I can only do what I can do and I’ll keep helping out and playing my part as much as I can, keep pushing him and that’s all part of us being a great team.

“I don’t think there is anyone that is close to Mako at the minute. [Ireland’s] Jack McGrath is playing some quality rugby but even then Mako is just doing things which no-one else is doing.

“[Head coach] Eddie [Jones] is very good at keeping competition. I’ll step in when I need to and will try to get that starting shirt back but it is a 23-man game and whoever starts and whoever finishes has to try and add and do their bit.

“I’m not in control of selection and never will be. I can only control how hard I work and I have to concentrate on keeping in good form and make it difficult for Eddie to decide who starts and who finishes.”

In the wake of England’s victorious autumn, Jones demanded that his players return to their clubs and prove their international calibre on a weekly basis, urging them to maintain the highest possible standards.

The next instalment of that quest for Harlequins bruiser Marler is Saturday’s European Challenge Cup clash with Romanian outfit Timisoara Saracens at The Stoop. Quins, beaten finalists last season, are currently second in Pool 5, two points adrift of leaders Edinburgh.

“We would love to be playing in the top-tier competition but as a club we have historically gone pretty well in this competition and have won it the most out of any other club,” said Marler.

“At the end of the day it’s a competition and there is an opportunity to lift a trophy at the end of it. Everyone likes lifting trophies, no matter what they have written on them.

“We want to kick on, we want to qualify from our group and get as many home ties as we can. We want to get to that final and we definitely want to win.

“We know the teams will toughen up the closer we get to that final but that doesn’t mean we’re not respecting the challenge in front of us.

“It will be interesting game [on Saturday] because we won pretty comprehensively [42-3] against them last week. If they come out all guns blazing in the first 20 minutes again, hopefully we can ride that wave and kick on from there.”

Following Saturday’s tussle, Quins will refocus their gaze on securing their place in the top half of the Premiership when they play Gloucester in their Big Game 9 clash at Twickenham on 27 December.

“I love playing at Twickenham, it’s a great stadium with a great atmosphere,” added Marler.

“There have been one or two club matches there which have been dire, but hopefully with Gloucester liking to play as well it will be an entertaining game. It’s an important game to keep us in the hunt for the top six.”

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