England forwards coach Matt Proudfoot said on Wednesday Joe Marler is in contention to face Wales this weekend for what would be the prop’s first Test since he was banned for grabbing the testicles of the opponents’ captain Alun Wyn Jones.
Marler received a 10-week ban for his extraordinary conduct during March’s 33-30 win at Twickenham, when Eddie Jones’s men clinched the Triple Crown on the way to winning the Six Nations title.
Following rugby union’s resumption after the coronavirus lockdown, a knee injury prevented Marler from taking part in the Six Nations title-clinching victory over Italy last month.
The 30-year-old Harlequins front rower, a veteran of 71 Tests, also missed the subsequent Autumn Nations Cup wins against Georgia and Ireland but the strong-scrummaging Marler is now fit.
Victory over Wales in Llanelli on Saturday would guarantee England finished top of Pool B and take them into an Autumn Nations Cup final, where France could well be their opponents.
England coach Jones, who also has Marler’s rival loosehead props Mako Vunipola and Ellis Genge available, is due to name his matchday 23 on Thursday, with one of the trio set to miss out.
“Joe’s back in contention. He’s a vital cog in our box this week and if he’s selected we’ll look to have him involved the best we can,” Proudfoot said.
“From his personal skill-set, he’s really good defensively, brings a nice edge defensively. And then his ability to attack the opposition tighthead is one of his strengths.
“We understand that Wales have a really experienced front row and a really experienced pack. The way they scrummed against Georgia last weekend really impressed me,” he added.
Wales ended a run of six straight Test defeats with an 18-0 win over Georgia last weekend but the visitors will be huge favourites to win at Parc y Scarlets after a commanding victory over Ireland.
But Proudfoot, a member of South Africa’s backroom staff when the Springboks beat England in last year’s Rugby World Cup final, had some sympathy for the position under-pressure Wales coach Wayne Pivac finds himself in after succeeding the successful Warren Gatland.
“I’ve been involved in a national set-up where it’s a new management style and it takes time. They have their own style,” Proudfoot said.
“What impressed me was just how dominant they were against Georgia. You look at a team’s last performance, look at what they are doing right.
“When that starts to click, the team gets confidence. With the experience they have in their group, they won’t take long to bed down and move forward.”