Rugby World Cup: Joe Marler ready to take on Wallabies after taming hedgehogs, owls and rabbits

AFTER handling some prickly hedgehogs Joe Marler says there’s no chance England will “balls-up” their World Cup quarter-final against the Wallabies.

The pumped-up prop warned Australia that they’re running into a side with no-fear ahead of Saturday’s blockbuster in Oita – having spent time visiting some of Tokyo’s crazy animal cafes where he drank tea whilst holding anything from owls to rabbits.

Joe Marler at a hedgehog cafe in Tokyo
Joe Marler

Fun-loving Marler was part of the 2015 car-crash side that lost to the Wallabies in the group stages – but has not been beaten by them since.

The popular 29-year-old then retried from Test rugby in 2018, before making a shock u-turn for one final shot at glory in Japan.

And looking to make the most of it he said: “You may turn to me on Sunday and say: ‘You ballsed that up, Joe’ if we end up losing, but I don’t feel that in this group.

“I feel the boys embrace that nervousness and use it as a positive energy to drive us on and have a bring it on mentality.

“Other teams I have been involved in let nerves overcome them and caved in. I don’t feel that in this group.

“I don’t even know what pressure is. You create it in your own head don’t you if you’re listening to different voices.

“I think the group has now got a mindset of bring it on. We talk a lot about bring it on, bring on the challenges.

“We embrace it and we look forward to trying to take it as opposed to shying away from it.

“Each individual is different. Jonny Wilkinson used to speak about the thing that drove him most was the fear of failure, the fear of losing, and that worked brilliantly for him.

“Jamie George, for example, who is Mr Positive, Mr Energy all the time, he doesn’t focus on any of that because that brings him down. He constantly thinks about enjoying the moment, next job.

“As a collective, we focus less on the fear factor, more on the opportunity and the challenge. There’s a lot of excitement.

“A lot of that is balanced between excitement and a little bit of nervous energy, which we’ve got to try to keep a lid on.

“We want to be firing Saturday. But it’s a good place to be.

Jamie George is Mr Positive, according to Joe Marler – the England hooker came to Japan 10 years ago and fought with a sumo wrestler

“Boys are excited, knockout rugby and against Australia, big rivals over the last four years. They’ve been good battles.”

Marler has immersed himself in the Japanese culture since arriving in the Far East last month.

Ahead of England’s cancelled game against France in Yokohama the Harlequins forward chilled out by visiting a bizarre hedgehog cafe in trendy Harajuku with teammate Dan Cole.

But there seems there is nothing like that in boring Beppu.

Marler said: “Tom Curry keeps on talking about a hedgehog cafe over here.

“But I did some in Tokyo and they were pretty weird. Weird concept. You just sit there with your pet hedgehog.

“The tea’s not even that great.”

It hasn’t all been fun and games for Marler since joining back with the England camp, though.

Hours of hard work every day on and off the pitch and the possibility of being away from home for eight weeks if they make the final is the true cost of a World Cup campaign for a player who has previously battled with homesickness.

Marler said: “It hasn’t been easy.

“I have worked my buns off to try and get back into an emotional and mental state capable of contributing to the squad the best I can.

“As well as physical, that has been even harder. You come out of it for a year and you forget how quick and fast they do everything. So it hasn’t been easy, but I am thoroughly enjoying myself.”

And when asked if winning a World Cup would change his life and make up for it all, straight-talking Marler added: “I never know whether to be arsey or not!

“Yes it would be life changing in the sense that we’d have won the World Cup.

“I’m sure a lot of 2003 boys will then be looking over their shoulders thinking: ‘Oh God, we’re going to be struggling for after-dinner gigs now!’

“Will it be life-changing? Of course it would be. It would be an achievement, but I haven’t really thought about that much.”

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