Joe Marchant is hopeful that the lessons he learned during his Super Rugby sabbatical can help him add to his tally of England caps over the coming month.
Harlequins centre Marchant signed a new contract with the English Premiership club a year ago that allowed him to spend the first six months of this year with the Blues in Auckland.
Marchant, who has won three test caps, travelled to New Zealand with the blessing of both Paul Gustard and Eddie Jones, his club and international coaches. He subsequently scored three tries in seven appearances for the Blues.
That form was replicated once he returned to action with Harlequins in August, and the 24-year-old was one of 36 players who reconvened at England’s training base on Saturday to prepare for the team’s opening Autumn Nations Cup match against Georgia.
“I felt I learnt a bit about the speed of the game over there and where I can get myself onto the ball,” Marchant told World Rugby about his time in Auckland.
“That was a big challenge when I came here (England camp), actually putting that into place. Obviously, I went there to develop and to learn and to hopefully pull on a white shirt when I got back.
“I'm just really hoping that I get the opportunity to, fingers crossed.”
‘It’s the speed of it’
Although Marchant’s time in Auckland was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, he was able to play and train with some world-class talent, including Beauden Barrett, Rieko Ioane, Caleb Clarke and Hoskins Sotutu.
“The skill level of the guys there, it was pretty crazy,” he admitted.
“There were boys, obviously, who you've heard of going there and boys that you hadn't heard of. All of them would impress with their skill level.”
So, what were the biggest differences playing in the southern as opposed to the northern hemisphere?
“It’s the speed of it,” Marchant explained. “Just the way the boys actually play with each other, [there’s] a lot of responsibility on the back-rowers, especially.
“And, I'm seeing definitely a change at Quins, anyway. We’ve got a lot of really good back-rowers who have shown their skills a lot more in actually being with the backs, which is really positive to see.”
Prior to the conclusion of the Six Nations, which England won with victory over Italy on the final day, Marchant had not been involved with Jones’ squad since the build-up to Rugby World Cup 2019.
He admitted it was a “little bit strange” walking into camp once more, but added “it was nice coming in and just being able to get stuck back in”.
Marchant is also happy to report that the ‘Guv’ nickname that he picked up in Auckland did not last more than “a couple of days” following his return to Harlequins.
Having spoken to Jones about his experience in New Zealand, Marchant is now keen to earn a place in England’s match-day squad during the Autumn Nations Cup.
“I've spoken to both [Jones and Harlequins coach, Gustard] just about taking things I've learnt, and putting it into practice,” he said.
“Just literally try to get on the ball a little bit more, and it's been good. A lot of the messaging is really positive and it's just about actually putting it into place now.
“And, if that starts to happen, then hopefully we’ll see some benefit from it.”
Putting his hand up
On the weekend, Jones urged the younger players in his squad to show a “desperation to play” during the Autumn Nations Cup.
No one could argue with Marchant’s desire to develop and improve following his stint in Auckland, and he is unsurprisingly keen to catch his coach’s eye.
“I'm always trying to put my hand up where I can,” he said.
“All the young lads are the same, all trying to put their hand up because we all want to be involved. We all want to be in the mix.
“So, again, hopefully it comes off and we do manage to get some game time. But for the moment, it's just literally ‘keep your head down, keep working’ and then fingers crossed.”
Following England’s Six Nations Championship success, the mood in the camp is understandably positive heading into the Autumn Nations Cup.
“Obviously, it's great to win silverware and win the Six Nations,” Marchant said.
“All the boys are really looking forward to this new tournament. We've got Georgia first game. It's such a big one to start off with.
“And, for us, we're all just putting everything into that and getting all our training and stuff sorted so when that game comes, we're ready.”