Joe Marler will play against England after being unveiled as the Barbarians’ newest recruit for next weekend’s summer international, but the Harlequins prop not committing to a return to Test duty to ease Eddie Jones’ Rugby World Cup selection headache.
The Barbarians Twitter account announced loosehead prop Marler as the newest recruit to Pat Lam’s side that will take on a depleted England squad – that will be coached by RFU employee Jim Mallinder – on Sunday 2 June, the day after the Premiership final.
Marler called time on his England career with 59 last September after struggling mentally with the long spells in camp and on tour away from his family, which includes his wife Daisy and their two children. The couple are expecting their third child in the week after the Barbarians match at Twickenham, which initially delayed Marler’s confirmation in the squad, but the inclusion has since been announced.
“Playing for the Barbarians is something I never thought would happen so I’m really excited to be involved — it’s a bit of dream come true,” said Marler. “I’ve played against them for England, most recently last year, but it didn’t cross my mind that I’d get an invitation so I’m delighted to have been approached.
“I’m really looking forward to running out at Twickenham again but there’s also a bit of trepidation about walking into the Barbarians team room.
"It’ll be like the first day at school when you’re setting out to make a good impression. I know a few people like John Afoa but I’m sure I’ll have to win the others over!”
Marler will become the latest England international to play against his own country, following in the footsteps of Saracens full-back Alex Goode and Chris Ashton’s memorable appearance in last year’s victory over Jones’ side, in which the then-Toulon back scored three tries in 27 minutes and held a discussion with the head coach that triggered his move to Sale Sharks and revival of his international career.
For Marler though, the same scenario is unlikely. Should he decide to come out of retirement to make himself eligible for selection again, Marler would have to commit to a near-three month training camp away before a potential two months in Japan for the Rugby World Cup.
But talk of his return has been generated by the injury that has ruled current No 1 loosehead prop Mako Vunipola out for the rest of the season, with the Saracens front row linchpin undergoing surgery on a hamstring tear that requires “a minimum of three months to recover”.
Jones has shown no interest in trying to talk Marler into a return, with the Australian content with his other options in Exeter’s Ben Moon and Leicester’s Ellis Genge, and the England camp are confident that the return of Vunipola during the four planned World Cup warm-ups will give him enough time to regain full match fitness for the tournament.
Marler joins a star-studded Barbarians side that features fellow Premiership names Charles Piutau, Steven Luatia and the Wasps-bound Malakai Fekitoa, as well as former Wales scrum-half Rhys Webb. Opposite them, Jones will move aside to give control of the England team to Mallinder – who is the on the books with the RFU as a development coach of age-grade teams – with Jones assuming a director of rugby role that could be similar to his position post-World Cup.
However, Jones has already indicated that the side is likely to be made up of the next crop of international youngsters as well as those on the fringe of the Rugby World Cup squad, given they cannot call on any players who make the Premiership final and will not risk injury to their established names.
One name who will not feature in the match is the recently-retired James Haskell, who had been on the wanted list for the match to give him a Twickenham swansong but is unable to play due to injury.
Meanwhile, England co-captain Dylan Hartley will not play a game of rugby this year until the warm-up matches should he be selected after Northampton Saints director of rugby Chris Boyd ruled him out of this weekend’s play-off against Exeter Chiefs.
Hartley has not played since December after suffering a knee injury that eventually required surgery before the Six Nations, and hopes of a return before the end of the season have not materialised.
"Dylan won't be ready to play," Boyd said on Wednesday. "If there was no rugby to come in the next six months we might roll him out and see if he can get through it. But in such a crucial game and not having played since Christmas he's got some other stuff to get his head around so we've decided he's just not quite ready.”