During the second half of the Pool D clash in Nice, with England narrowly leading 13-12, they received a huge stroke of fortune when George Ford’s pass went backwards off the hands of Will Stuart, clattered off the head of the unwitting Marler and Courtney Lawes almost embarrassedly scooped the ball up to score the try.
In rugby, if the ball goes forward off a player’s hands or arm, it is a knock-on and a scrum to the opposition but off any other part of the body – including the head or face – and it’s a legal play.
— ITV Rugby (@ITVRugby) September 17, 2023
The ludicrous nature of the try was fitting for an error-strewn match in which both sides struggled to execute basic skills, consistently knocking on or dropping the ball.
The subsequent conversion took the score from 13-12 to 20-12 and England would pull further away from their opponents in the closing stages of the match to eventually record a 34-12 bonus-point win.
After the match, England captain Lawes gave his reaction to the try as part of his post-match press conference.
“It was quite a lucky try but I’ll take them when they come, to be honest,” said Lawes. “It was a good bit of luck for us. In these conditions, you take what you’re given.
“I saw it ricocheted off his head so I went and scored the try just in case. I was pretty sure – I thought it had gone backwards and then come off his head, I told the ref on the way back. I had a good idea it was going to get given.”
The try provoked a mixture of delight and derision on social media and beyond, with ITV co-commentator and former England international Ben Kay jokingly calling it “Joe Marler’s greatest ever assist” in commentary at the time.
ITV rugby presenter Mark Pougatch took to Twitter/X to write “Joe Marler headed that down like a 1970s Fourth Division centre forward.”
Joe Marler headed that down like a 1970s Fourth Division centre forward
— Mark Pougatch (@markpougatch) September 17, 2023
Meanwhile, ex England fly half and current podcaster Andy Goode wrote: “Comedy try but we’ll take it! Off the nut and Marler with assist.”
Even the official Rugby World Cup account got in on the action, saying “Joe Marler’s mohawk has just recorded an assist for a try” in reference to the prop’s hairstyle.