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Marler’s Boks buildup: Wine and exercise in a chicken pen

November 19, 2021 GMT

LONDON (AP) — Drinking wine and exercising in a chicken pen while recovering from the coronavirus is hardly the ideal way to prepare for a test match against the world champion Springboks.

Then again, Joe Marler isn’t like most rugby players.

The England prop — one of the sport’s biggest characters — has had an unusual buildup to Saturday’s game at Twickenham having been forced to isolate at home after contracting COVID-19 last week.

Friday marked his first day out of quarantine, giving him the opportunity to reveal what he had been doing while away from the rest of the England squad.

“My taste buds aren’t back. Headline news — it’s really upsetting me,” Marler said.

“About two years ago we had a big chicken pen built and unfortunately my dog died on the same night that a fox ravaged my four chickens in there. So I had this pen that I could do some running in and I’ve got a gym in my garage, so I kept on top of that. And then I tucked into a bottle of red a day just to keep things going and I’ve managed to make it back.”

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With only one day of training under his belt, Marler will start on the bench against the Boks and their world-class pack in a rematch of the 2019 Rugby World Cup final.

He cannot wait to get back on the field. And when he does, he’ll have just one approach.

“I’ve thought about this,” he said. “You know when you get adrenaline and adrenaline is used for fight or flight … that’s genetics, Neanderthals, the first men … the reason was to work out whether you could stay and fight or leg it because you’re really scared.

“That’s how I feel about the Springbok front-rowers and their scrummaging and their passion for it. It’s very much fight or flight and I run towards the fight side of it.”

Marler said South Africa had “world-class operators” even if they had to go down to their third-best front row.

“That’s what I want to do — I want to test myself against the best in the hottest environment,” he said, “and I’m really excited about it.”

England has lost hookers Jamie George and Luke Cowan-Dickie as well as prop Ellis Genge to a mixture of COVID-19 and injury. With experienced prop Mako Vunipola out of favor with England coach Eddie Jones, England will start with 21-year-old prop Bevan Rodd — winning his second cap — and four-cap hooker Jamie Blamire.

Marler expects both to seize their chance, having played in the 32-15 win over Australia last weekend.

“The fact Bevan will have to back it up against the best team in the world I hope will (teach) him that international rugby is relentless and you have to be on top of your game the whole time to even just get parity,” Marler said.

“But also I hope they learn it’s one of the best places to be and you want to be playing in these environments against the best and the biggest in front of 80,000-plus, on TV … I hope they learn from that, aren’t daunted and they thrive and want to do it again and again and again.”

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