England’s Joe Marler put on a clinic in the art of international diplomacy at the Rugby World Cup earlier this week, laying down the law on Japan’s bathing etiquette.
The Harlequins prop rebuked English journalists for “offending Japanese culture” by wearing trunks in an onsen – a traditional hot spring where bathers customarily enter the water naked with just a small hand towel to protect their modesty.
While in Kobe ahead of their 45-7 Pool C rout over the United States, England’s players found themselves sharing a soak with members of the traveling press – and gave reporters a hard time for failing to strip down properly.
Asked about England’s game with Argentina in Tokyo this weekend, Marler went off on an unexpected tangent, getting himself into a lather about the cultural faux pas.
“Apparently you lot have offended the Japanese culture,” barked the 29-year-old, one of the World Cup’s most striking players with his blonde quiff, shaved sides and a bushy black beard.
“It says specifically no shorts – I wore a vest to cover my tatts and socks, but nothing here,” added Marler, pointing to his lower body.
“Because I didn’t want to offend them. And yet you’re swanning about the place in swim shorts – it’s ridiculous!”
Marler also got shirty when asked about Mako Vunipola’s possible return from injury against the dangerous Pumas, which could give England coach Eddie Jones a selection headache at loosehead as they look to cement their place at the top of the tournament’s so-called group of death.
After coming out of international retirement to play at the World Cup in Japan, Marler said: “There’s three guys all going for two shirts and that doesn’t work.
“It’s great to have Mako back fully fit,” he added. “He brings world-class experience and talent into that role, so I’ve enjoyed my time.”
With the suggestion that Marler expects to make way for the rampaging Vunipola left hanging, one hapless reporter took the bait – only to be shot down in flames.
“I specifically didn’t say that,” he snapped. “I said I’ve enjoyed my time and you’ve come to some kind of conclusion.
“Please do not put words in my mouth like that,” added Marler. “I’m determined to give as much as I can to this group in order to help us win the game on Saturday.”
Marler was asked about the testy nature of England versus Argentina Tests after being reminded of a brutal 27-14 victory at Twickenham three years ago when Pumas prop Enrique Pieretto was sent off for stamping on Marler’s face.
“I wouldn’t say they’re niggly – they’re just an extremely passionate nation and I guess so are we,” he said. “He stamped on my head because I held his leg, so it was my own fault.”
Pausing to tell a photographer his camera shutter was too loud and ask a local female journalist why her sneakers had no laces, Marler finished where he began a bizarre press conference.
“You need to stop wearing shorts in the onsen,” he said as the savage banter continued. “That’s my reply to you. I know you’re going ‘you’re wasting my time here’ – but likewise, thank you.”