Harlequins head of rugby Paul Gustard praised Joe Marler’s “street-savviness” as the England prop returned to help his club defeat Bath in the Heineken Champions Cup.
Marler took the internet by storm in the build-up to the all-Premiership encounter in Europe’s top competition with his hilarious drawn-out horse metaphor in a training-ground interview.
But he put the horseplay to one side to do what he does best in the 15-9 triumph at The Stoop as 12 points from Marcus Smith and a long-range James Lang penalty secured victory.
And Gustard singled out the England star for the decisive role he played in his first game back since the Rugby World Cup in Japan, highlighting his crucial late intervention in particular.
“We’ve had a stuttering start to the season, but I was really pleased with the effort and the energy of the team – it was important to get a win however it came,” said Gustard.
“The game was quite slow-placed. I thought Joe Marler’s scrummaging was outstanding and his defensive effort was brilliant. His street-savviness with Francois Louw showed at the end with the final three points, making sure he was tied into the ruck.
“I thought our game management was really good in the first half in particular. We put them under a lot of pressure and that’s down to the direction Marcus Smith and James Lang gave us.
“Our set-piece was more dominant in the first half than theirs which gave us a good foothold. Rugby is a very simple game – be more physical, outwork the opposition and you tend to get results.”
Freddie Burns kicked three second-half penalties for Bath to claw back the deficit but director of rugby Stuart Hooper admitted his side were ultimately not good enough.
“I think we came here understanding what the conditions would be like, how the opposition played, and we wanted to put pressure on them,” said Hooper.
“We had too many moments in the game where we let that pressure off. We talked about pinning them back in their third – in these conditions you want to be without the ball most of the time.
“We let them out all too often with a soft penalty. It’s very difficult to come away somewhere in the Champions Cup and that penalty count is not going to win you games.
“They went 9-0 up quickly, and in these conditions you’re not going to be scoring tries from 50 metres out no matter who you have in your team, so you’ve got to build a score.
“It leaves us probably needing to win our next four games if we want to get through, which is a massive challenge. I’ll never say we can’t progress until we can’t progress.”