You probably wouldn’t want to bump into Joe Marler in a dark alleyway… or in the middle of a rugby scrum. And England are hoping the East Sussex rugby union star will have a similar effect on their world cup opponents in Japan this month.

Six foot tall and weighing in at more than 18 stone, the former Maynards Green Primary School and Heathfield Community College pupil is as instantly recognisable for his man-mountain physique as for his trademark haircuts. And despite announcing his retirement from international rugby last September, Marler is back in the England team aiming to win the world cup.

A different path?

The Harlequins and England prop began his journey to sporting stardom as a 12-year-old but could have pursued a different course had the oval ball game not come calling.

He told Your East Sussex: “I used to play a lot of football as a goalkeeper – I wasn’t any good but I used to fill the goal. Then a mate moved to Eastbourne and asked if I fancied playing rugby there on a Sunday morning – that’s how it all started.”

From the playing fields of Sussex to the big arenas of the world the 29-year-old has become a familiar figure in the rugby world. He was called into the England squad for the 2010 end of year tests and made his test debut as loose-head prop against South Africa in the summer of 2012. Prior to his premature retirement, in his six year International Rugby career Joe won 59 caps for England.

A Lion

In April 2017, Marler was one of 41 players selected for the British and Irish Lions’ tour to New Zealand in June and July of that year, making 5 appearances for the squad.

At the time it was the realisation of a dream. “Playing in a World Cup, for your team and your country, is the ultimate, but being selected for the Lions is more of a personal accolade.” He said.

He and his England colleagues are determined to do better in Japan than at the last world cup in 2015 when the team’s dismal performance in the tournament led to them being the first solo host nation to crash out in the group stage.

“We had the chance to be successful in front of our own crowd and we just flopped,” says Marler. “That will always eat at me personally and at that group of boys who took part.”

East Sussex through and through

Off the pitch Marler has not forgotten his roots. The East Sussex boy had a four-year spell living in London – ‘too many people… they’re really miserable’ – before returning to his home county, and lives in Cross In Hand with his partner and three children.

“I like that it’s out of the way and there’s open fields everywhere,” he says. “It enables me to switch off physically and mentally and as soon as I’m in that car I don’t have to worry about rugby until the next morning. East Sussex is where I grew up and it’s my home – I just love it.”

The England team is one of the favourites for the world cup which is taking place in Japan this month (October 2019). A total of 20 teams will battle it out for the title and England’s first aim will be to get out of the group stage – having been drawn in a pool against Argentina, Tonga, USA, and France.

At the time of writing Joe has featured in two resounding wins over Tonga and the USA and those results mean England top their group. But matches against Argentina (Sat, 5 Oct) and France (Sat 12 Oct) promise a tougher test of the team.

But at Your East Sussex we want to wish Joe and his England colleagues the very best of luck for a successful tournament. How good would it be to see a Heathfield lad lift the world cup trophy?! Come on England!