What people seem to be missing about Joe Marler’s retirement from international rugby

*please note this article contains some strong language*

Joe Marler has 59 England caps to his name, made his debut against South Africa in the summer of 2009 and coincidently has played his final game in an England shirt against the Bok’s during this summer’s tour.

Last week the Harlequins prop announced his retirement from international rugby with just under a year to go until the Rugby World Cup. The announcement shocked the rugby community and in an interview with ‘The Rugby Pod’ earlier this week, he admitted that he used to go looking for yellow and red cards around the time of the international periods.

That is what nearly every paper has portrayed, however, if you listen carefully it is actually the anxiety of playing international rugby that leads to erratic behaviour on the field of play.

There is no doubt that playing for your country is one of the greatest honours in any sport. But unless you are a professional athlete no one knows the impact it can have on both yourself and your family, which is something Marler alluded to when he spoke to the pod:

“I’ve just had enough, I’ve got a young family, I’ve enjoyed my time with England but family is my priority. As soon as I had kids my perspective changed.”

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Marler was more than certain to travel with the England squad to Japan for the World Cup next year and was looking to make a minimum of £400,000 just from international matches, but he says that money isn’t everything:

“You can’t buy back the years and parents evenings you have been missing out on.

“My drive is to be a family and play for my club, I couldn’t do both (international and domestic).

“You don’t get to see your family; people forget about the highs and lows.

“It hasn’t felt that hard, it hasn’t felt like a big decision for me because I’ve been thinking about it for a long time and it was probably pre- South Africa that I made my mind up.”


To retire from international rugby to spend more time with your family isn’t uncommon and is laudable and that reason wasn’t what caused upset earlier this week, it was the comments about receiving yellow and red cards and picking up bans around the international period.

What has been reported about Marler has been taken completely out of context. Never in the interview did he say that he wanted to or purposely tried to get himself a ban; which he has backed himself via Twitter following the podcast.

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What he actually said was that the anxiety that surrounds playing for England and the commitment, time away from family and the expectation would all get too much and how he played would consequently spiral out of control:

“The anxiety I would get about having to leave and go away again would start to manifest itself in giving away even more daft penalties and looking for outs, looking for red cards, looking for a yellow, because if I could pick up a ban then that is a way out without pulling the trigger”

Mental health within sport, especially rugby given its tough exterior has only started to be properly spoken about in the last five/six years. The effect that professional sport and the pressures that come with it can have a harrowing effect on the body both physically and mentally. Although Marler hasn’t openly said he is a sufferer of anxiety he has said that anxiety would be a reasoning to his behaviour to spiral:

“I can’t keep doing this rollercoaster and it is not fair on my family or the club to go hang on a minute a week ago he’s playing well for us and not knowing when he’s going to play like a twat again”

Marler certainly has a good 4 seasons left playing for his beloved club and will defiantly be reaching the 200-appearance mark by Christmas. His comments about his play can be taken as being rather poor from a sportsman or can be viewed with a touch of empathy for a player who has found playing for his country mentally harder than what meets the eye.

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