The Harlequins and England prop is one of rugby’s most vibrant characters

Joe Marler on growing the game

Joe Marler believes rugby needs to do all it can to engage new audiences, including celebrating individuals.

Writing in Rugby World’s Style Issue, the Harlequins and England prop recognises that players must help draw people to the sport, whether new fans or old.

“This sport is shrinking,” he says. “We all love the sport, play it, report on it, watch it, but it’s shrinking. People want more access to players, to connect with players and know who you are. Why wouldn’t you give that for the sport to grow and get bigger?

“Having kids and seeing the impact meeting Gareth Southgate had on my son, Jasper, recently… If I can have a similar effect on someone who likes rugby as much as Jasper likes football and they want to engage in the sport, why wouldn’t I do that?”

Marler also highlights the importance of players being themselves. The front-rower is known for his unique style, be it his mohican haircut or colourful tracksuits that he wears to matches – a tradition that started during lockdown, and he wants other players to embrace their own individuality too.

“Yes, we’re in a team sport but you can still put your own stamp on things,” says Marler. “I love dressing up, I always have, and it shows another side of yourself that people don’t necessarily know.

“My tracksuits are a way to get people talking about more than rugby because rugby at times is very difficult to explain to people who don’t know the sport. Plus, it’s fun!

“One of the big drivers for me, particularly going back and playing for England, is that I don’t want the new breed to make the mistakes I did, to feel that they have to go away from themselves, to not upset the apple cart because they might not be picked.

“People aren’t used to players not having a short back and sides or coming from a private school, but this is who I am, this is how I enjoy being. It’s not the norm for rugby but to grow the sport we have to appeal to different people. People who love rugby will keep coming back but we need to engage others.”

Read more about the importance of celebrating individuals in Rugby World’s new style issue – on sale now.

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