England are weighing up the value of Joe Marler’s scrummaging expertise as they look to secure their place in the Autumn Nations Cup final by toppling Wales.
Alongside Mako Vunipola and Ellis Genge, Marler is one of three loosehead props in contention for a place in the starting XV to be named by Eddie Jones on Thursday morning.
A knee injury prevented Marler from taking part in the Six Nations title-clinching victory over Italy last month and the wins against Georgia and Ireland that have placed a tournament decider against France on the horizon.
If the ballast he brings to the scrum is chosen, Saturday’s Twickenham showdown would be his first England appearance since grabbing the testicles of Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones in March, an offence that resulted in a 10-week ban.
“Joe’s back in contention. He’s a vital cog in our box this week and if he’s selected we’ll look to have him involved the best we can,” forwards coach Matt Proudfoot said.
“Joe’s a really mature, experienced player. Wales really look to get in between you, break your set piece apart, and a player with that experience holds it together, keeps your plan in place.
“From his personal skill set, he’s really good defensively, brings a nice edge defensively. And then his ability to attack the opposition tighthead is one of his strengths.
“We understand that Wales have a really experienced front row and a really experienced pack. The way they scrummed against Georgia last weekend really impressed me.”
🗣️ "We’re really competitive at the moment and we’re trying to push forward with our playing style.
"That requires a robust, dominant pack and we’re starting to forge that mentality.” 💬
Get the latest from Matt Proudfoot on how the team are shaping up for this weekend ⤵️
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) November 25, 2020
Jones must also cull one from a back row contingent of Billy Vunipola, Tom Curry, Sam Underhill, Ben Earl and Jack Willis to finalise his side, unless he opts for a six-two split on the bench in which case Max Malins is likely to lose out.
Wales ended a run of six Test defeats by dispatching Georgia 18-0, temporarily relieving some of the pressure on head coach Wayne Pivac.
Even at Parc y Scarlets they are heavy underdogs to defeat an England side that have just bullied Ireland into submission, but Proudfoot denies they are vulnerable as Pivac struggles to make his mark since replacing Warren Gatland.
“I’ve been involved in a national setup where it’s a new management style and it takes time. They have their own style,” Proudfoot said.
“What impressed me was just how dominant they were against Georgia. You look at a team’s last performance, look at what they are doing right.
“When that starts to click, the team gets confidence. With the experience they have in their group, they won’t take long to bed down and move forward.”
While Wales are in the doldrums England look ominously powerful, especially up front where their pack is already arguing a strong case for extensive representation on next year’s Lions tour to South Africa.
“We are really competitive at the moment. We are really trying to push forward with our playing style and that requires a really robust dominant pack,” Proudfoot said.
“We are starting to forge that mentality but every opposition challenges you in a different way.
“This week is going to be a really different challenge as our focus is on what Wales did to Georgia. They were just as dominant. It’s going to be a really tough challenge for us.”