Ollie Phillips: Banned Harlequins and England prop Joe Marler should not change his dynamic game

Ollie Phillips
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Harlequins v Ulster Rugby -  Champions Cup
Joe Marler was shown a red card during Harlequins' Premiership clash with Sale (Source: Getty)

When you are 18st and tearing into tackles, rucks and mauls then you are going to make the odd mistake and, unfortunately, when that happens it is likely to merit a sending off.

Loosehead prop Joe Marler was this week handed a six-week ban following his red card for Harlequins after striking Sale Sharks’ TJ Ioane with his shoulder, which means he will miss England’s opening two matches of the Six Nations.

It is not the first time the 27-year-old has been suspended for England matches – it is his third reprimand this season – but he is a top quality front rower who is dynamic, mobile and plays on the edge.

When Marler performs on the right side of that edge then he is devastatingly brilliant for both club and country, but when someone plays at that intensity and makes a mistake then it is going to cost them – that’s just the way it is.

The whole premise of the front row is to dominate the opponent and that requires a level of physicality, whether that be in the scrum, lineout, defence or attack, that is unheard of across any other position on the pitch.

Front row play is a key decider in the professional game and not only do those players need to be big scrummagers that can dictate the set piece but they also have to be extremely mobile and physical in the loose.

The likes of Marler, Mako Vunipola and Kyle Sinckler fall into that category and that mix gives England huge dynamism in their front row; the only sit-there-and-wedge sort of player is Dan Cole but he is so good at it that the Red Rose rely upon him.

However, with that front-row flexibility, mobility and dynamism comes an element of risk and when those sorts of players are proving their worth as really prominent forces then they are going to get it wrong from time to time. When they do, it doesn’t look good.

Nobody will be hurting more than Marler himself about missing games for Quins and England and Eddie Jones will be disappointed that he doesn’t have the luxury of selecting him for matches against Italy and Wales.

But, at the same time, you want Marler, who toured New Zealand with the British and Irish Lions in the summer, to continue playing the way that he does because he is so disruptive and devastating when he gets it right.

The man who knuckles down next to him for England, Dylan Hartley, is exactly the same and it is asked whether he is a liability given the number of times he has been red carded and suspended.

Hartley is someone who has adapted and moulded his game to the extent that he now lands himself in hot water far less, but is that to his benefit?

Many people now question if he is abrasive enough and whether he deserves his place in the team, with Saracens hooker Jamie George their preferred option to fill the No2 jersey.

I wouldn’t want to see Marler change the foundations of his game.

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