Six Nations: England back Joe Marchant hoping to make breakthrough after ‘rollercoaster’ start to international career

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Joe Marchant describes how the England Rugby team were left standing in the road after a fire and then ended up taking a safe haven in a nearby pub

Joe Marchant describes how the England Rugby team were left standing in the road after a fire and then ended up taking a safe haven in a nearby pub

After a “rollercoaster” start to his international career, Harlequins back Joe Marchant says he is ready to take the opportunity to establish himself in Eddie Jones’ England set-up.

With captain Owen Farrell out for the whole Six Nations following ankle surgery, and a return date for Manu Tuilagi unclear as he works his way back from a hamstring strain, the door could be open for Marchant to put together a run of games in his usual centre position.

Having been on the fringes of the England squad since 2019, the 25-year-old excelled in the 13 jersey as Harlequins won last year’s Premiership title, but was initially left out of Jones’ squad for the Autumn Internationals that followed.

Injuries saw Marchant handed a belated call-up, but it was only in England’s third and final November fixture that he was given his chance – against world champions South Africa.

Marchant impressed against South Africa in November

Marchant impressed against South Africa in November

After starting out of position on the wing, an early injury to Tuilagi saw Marchant switched to centre, from where he set up the game-winning try as an inexperienced England side earned a memorable 27-26 victory.

England’s first game since that day comes next weekend, as they travel to Murrayfield to face Scotland in their Six Nations opener, leaving Marchant optimistic this could be his opportunity.

“I’d like to think so,” Marchant told Sky Sports News. “Obviously you never want to see players get injured or anything but at the same time, there is an opportunity to play.

“It’s just now about going into training, putting our best foot forward, and getting our name on that teamsheet.”

Marchant made his first England appearances amid unusual circumstances in the build-up to the 2019 World Cup, as he featured in three warm-up games despite having not been named in Jones’ 31-man squad for the tournament, even scoring a try against Italy.

Marchant could start at centre for England in the absence of Owen Farrell and Manu Tuilagi

Marchant could start at centre for England in the absence of Owen Farrell and Manu Tuilagi

Despite having appeared on the verge of breaking into the squad, just three more international appearances – all from the bench – followed over the next two years, with Marchant used as a utility back, away from centre on each occasion.

“Yeah there’s been lots of ups and downs, a bit of a rollercoaster really,” he said.

“I’ve been there or thereabouts for a while and dipping in and out, so being here, being fit, I just really want to put my best foot forward and try to get into the mix.”

While he accepts 13 is his most “dominant position”, Marchant says he is willing to play anywhere in England’s backline.

Marchant helped Harlequins to the Premiership title last season

Marchant helped Harlequins to the Premiership title last season

“I’ve played most of my rugby at 13, so that would be my dominant position,” Marchant said. “But I’m happy to play on the wing and as long as I’m on the pitch, I’d take any opportunity.

“That fact that I can be on the centre and the wing, I could bring a bit of speed to the outside, and try to punch into those wide channels and stress teams.

“At Quins, it’s been good, we’ve been getting a lot of ball and scoring a lot of tries by doing that, pulling at each side of the pitch.

“Hopefully if I do get the opportunity, I’ll be able to do that here a bit.”

‘We were sent to the pub for tactical meeting’

Marchant also revealed England began the process of rebuilding their midfield from the pub after their Six Nations preparations were hit by an electrical fire.

Jones’ squad scrambled to find a new venue for a key meeting after a manhole outside their hotel on Brighton seafront burst into flames on Tuesday evening, forcing a change in accommodation.

Having moved to a new hotel, they were dispatched to find a pub and from there Marchant and his centre colleagues began looking ahead to their upcoming campaign.

“When we had the evacuation, we got sent to the pub around the corner,” Marchant said.

“We kind of split off there…all the outside backs were together, all the inside backs and all the forwards.

“Basically we all talked about what we’re looking to do in this campaign and how we can get that into the first session today (Thursday).

“It was burgers all round. Fish and chips too. We’d been darting around the streets of Brighton and as we got to the pub, there was a power cut in there as well!

“We were just sat in the dark for a while. It’s character building, getting the team together. No ghost stories, but good to be together as a team.”

‘Japanese ritual brings us together’

Along with tactical discussions in the pub, there was further unorthodoxy in England’s week as the squad participated in a Japanese cleansing ritual on the south coast.

Throughout his time in charge, Jones has always attempted to provide his squad with different voices and activities to maintain an atmosphere of freshness.

England first tried the ‘misogi’ ritual during last year’s camp in Jersey before the Autumn Internationals, and Jones has opted to persist with it.

“I don’t know the full description,” Marchant said. “But it’s kind of a Japanese ritual of cleansing involving water.

“We did it in the morning. They took a bit of a spin on it and got us into the sea, with lots of sandbags, carrying lots of things, and running up and down the beach.

“Basically tiring us out but bringing us together at the same time.”

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