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Fightback in South Africa was key moment for England, says Marler

Harlequins' Joe Marler. Photo credit: David Davies/PA wire Harlequins' Joe Marler. Photo credit: David Davies/PA wire

Thursday, November 8, 2012
7:02 AM

Joe Marler will win only his fourth England cap against Fiji on Saturday - but already he has experienced a defining moment in both his international career and the destiny of the national team.

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That is how the Harlequins forward reflects on the first 20 minutes of England’s second Test against South Africa in Johannesburg during the summer, when the Springboks rampaged into a 22-3 lead.

The pace and power at which South Africa set about England at Ellis Park was a rude awakening for Marler in his second Test. He suddenly knew what international rugby was about.

As England gathered under the posts, they were either going to roll over or fight back. Marler knew the response would determine the true character of Stuart Lancaster’s team.

England fought back. They eventually lost 36-27 but built on an improved second-half performance the following week, drawing the third Test 14-14 in Port Elizabeth.

“Standing under the posts after the first 20 minutes of that second Test will stay for me throughout the rest of my career,” Marler said.

“I was blowing, South Africa were hammering us and I was thinking ‘unless we pull our fingers out we will get 50 points on us here’. That was a moment I thought ‘this is a step up’.

“Jannie du Plessis probably gave me a bit of a hiding.

“But it is good to have those moments as reference points. You think ‘that is how I want to make someone else feel’ because I don’t want to experience that again.”

And the same applies to England as a team as they prepare for a tough QBE autumn series against Fiji, Australia, South Africa again and then world champions New Zealand.

“That 20-minute period was a turning point in the tightness of the group and the guys coming together as a team and wanting to dig deep for each other in the darkest places,” Marler said.

“We were disappointed not to get a win in those three games but the second half of the second Test and the third Test was positive.

“Physically it is a massive step up and you know that if you are not on your game they will just keep coming and keep coming.

“That is the sort of attitude we have in our group. We just want to keep hammering the opposition, keep going, keep going because if they ease off we will take the chance.”

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