Joe Marler: England can win ugly – like 2003 World Cup heroes

Joe Marler: England won the 2003 World Cup playing ugly – why can’t we?
Joe Marler (R) has defended England's style of play - AP/Pavel Golovkin

Joe Marler insists England have no problem emulating the 2003 World Cup-winning side by “winning ugly” after issuing a defence against harsh criticism of their playing style.

Steve Borthwick’s side took a giant step towards qualifying for the quarter-finals with a four-try 34-12 victory against Japan on Sunday in Nice. Yet England were booed by their own supporters at one stage in the second half as they continued to kick possession away, and were described by former England centre Jeremy Guscott as unwatchable following a drab first-half display.

Their scrappy style was reflected by prop Marler providing an inadvertent assist off his forehead for Courtney Lawes after George Ford’s pass was deflected off replacement Will Stuart.

Yet pointing to the example of Sir Clive Woodward’s 2003 side, and the 2019 world champion Springboks, Marler rejected the notion that England will need to play more expansively.

“Why do you have to finesse it?” Marler said. “You’ve just got to win, haven’t you? What did England do 20 years ago? Find a way to win in the World Cup. You talk about style of play, don’t you? They went a couple of phases, Jonny slotted some penalties and some drop goals.

“They won ugly, a lot of that tournament they won ugly but we don’t talk about that now do we? We talk about them winning the World Cup. You forget about how you did it. You don’t talk about South Africa getting pumped in the first game against New Zealand, you talk about them pumping us in the final and then lifting the trophy.”

Marler’s assertion was backed up by fly-half Ford, who kicked 14 points following on from his 27-point haul against Argentina. “We’re here to win games, aren’t we?” Ford said. “That’s our job. We want to win Test matches.

“We want to make every English fan proud, of course we do, and we understand the sacrifices and commitment they make and we value that so highly. But we want to be a winning team and we want them to be proud of our winning team as well. That would be my message to them - that we’re going to put everything into it to win games to make them proud.”

England kicked the ball 42 times against Japan, making a total of 1,175 metres through kicks in hand. Ford justified the kick-heavy tactics by pointing to the hot, humid conditions which he says made the ball like a “bar of soap” and contributed to England committing 16 turnovers.

“We all have the best intentions - and I thought we did move the ball at the right times tonight and caused them some problems - but the best way to win Test matches, especially in those conditions, is to take smart decisions. It is to win field position and then to try and be clinical when the clear and obvious opportunities come.

“They defended very well as well but I’m proud of the way the boys stuck to our plan. We had a good idea it would probably take until the third or fourth quarter to pull away a bit, if we got it right. So the belief and the discipline to do that was great.”