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Thursday Aug 31, 2023

Dan Biggar and Joe Marler: They grow up so fast

The year was 2008, and a young lad was due to take off for his yearly trip to see family in Ireland from Bristol Airport.

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In the early days of iPod touches and smartphones, the choice of in-flight entertainment was not so much readily available on a do-it-all touchscreen device, but rather, for the majority of people, in the pages of a book or on the A/B buttons of a Gameboy Advance.

Well, this journey in particular, a 14-year-old future reporter entered the airport WHSmith’s and fell upon the collector’s edition of Rugby World, a magazine that for many of us provided the latest and greatest behind-the-scenes knowledge into the great game.

It was over the next 45 minutes of flight time and concluding three days in Dublin that this young lad poured over the contents of the magazine that would truly invigorate him to become a part of the sport.

But the story is not about him, in fact, it’s about two particular players in the magazine that were highlighted as future stars.

Now, it’s a story that happens too often when a player is touted to become the next big thing, the future star, the shining prospect…their star unfortunately turns into a supernova.

Well, the two players in question have come on a long way since the days of 2008, and their names have long since burned bright.

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The feature in question detailed a young Wales U20s player, Dan Bigger – and an even younger England U18s player, Joe Marler.

Might have heard of them?

Yes, us too.

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Biggar, at the time, was playing for local side Swansea and the Ospreys academy. His talent was obvious from the start, with coach Patrick Horgan saying at the time: “Daniel is a clever player who thinks ahead of his years.

“He could potentially have the lot in years to come thanks to his knowledge on the field. He knows when to hack and when to run, and Neil Jenkins has been working with him on kicking since the age of 15, so when he decides to kick he certainly can.

“I think he’ll be pushing for the Ospreys fly-half shirt before long. He plays as a sort of cross between James Hook and former Ospreys ten Matthew Jones, so it will be interesting to see how he progresses.”

Following a meeting with Warren Gatland (yes, same one), Biggar’s talent was clearly noticed by the Wales head coach as he picked up his first international cap against Canada later that very same year.

His international career wasn’t quite as smooth sailing as he may have hoped over the next four years, with periodic showings in the Welsh jersey being all he could suffice at the time.

Fast forward to this year’s World Cup and the now veteran fly half has well over 100 caps to his name and will go down alongside the likes of Neil Jenkins, Stephen Jones and many others in the line of great Welsh stand-offs.

The other spotlight from Rugby World was shone on that of Joe Marler, the Harlequins and England prop, podcast host, and custom motorbike driver (see below).

Besides the haircut transformation, Marler has not appeared to have changed in the 15 years since this publication was released, quoted as his reasoning for becoming a prop, Marler humoured: “I was the short, fat one basically.”

In his final year at the Quins academy at the time, Joe remained grounded about his future: “I still have a long way to go and I know things are going to get tough for me, but I’m really enjoying it”.

It would be four years before Marler would make his full England debut, but in the 15 years since this interview was conducted the now 33-year-old has won two Premiership titles, been selected for three World Cups, reached one World Cup final, and scored a heroic drop goal against the Barbarians…not a bad career, eh.

Both Dan Biggar and Joe Marler head to France for what is expected to be their final World Cups.

Both now old heads, their wealth of experience, knowledge, and developed skills will be paramount to ensuring that both Wales and England succeed in a tournament for which so many have already written them off.

Dan Bigger 2008 Spotlight – Written by Mark Coughlan

THERE’S a battle raging in Wales for the No 10 shirt. Not the Jones v Hook tête-à-tête, however, but a few age groups below where Daniel Biggar recently leapfrogged team-mate Gareth Owen to take the starting berth in a Wales U20 match against the Ospreys.

With U20 Six Nations places at stake, and with new Wales coach Warren Gatland meeting with the squad to outline their potential to make New Zealand 2011, not to mention the IRB Junior World Championship taking place in Wales later this year, it was an important selection victory for Biggar. But coach Patrick Horgan certainly knew he wasn’t taking a gamble.

“Daniel is a clever player who thinks ahead of his years,” Horgan points out
“He could potentially have the lot in years to come, thanks to his knowledge on the field. He knows when to kick and when to run, and Neil Jenkins has been working with him on kicking since the age of 15, so when he decides to kick he certainly can. I think he’ll be pushing for the Ospreys fly-half shirt before long. He plays as a sort of cross between James Hook and former Ospreys ten Matthew Jones, so it will be interesting to see how he progresses.”

High praise from the Welsh coach, and Biggar has clearly been impressing since making the step up from the under-18 side this year. Plying his trade for local side Swansea as well as with the Ospreys academy, the youngster has his feet planted firmly on the grounc and is currently just concentrating on success with his club outfits.

With a big year ahead of him, Biggar wil be looking to fulfil the potential that could thrust him onto Gatland’s radar for the build-up to 2011.

Joe Marler 2008 Spotlight – Written by Mark Coughlan

JOE MARLER is in no doubt as to why he started life as a prop way back in 2003. ” was the short, fat one basically.” For Joe, however, Eastbourne rugby club’s decision to stick him in with the big boys has worked wonders.

Five years later, Marler is coming to the end of his third year with the Harlequins academy – where he has signed a contract to join on a full-time basis when he turns 18 in July – and has been part of the England U18 side since their recent tour of Australia. “It all happened really fast for me last season.” the youngster admits. “I still have a long way to go and I know things are going to get tough for me, but I’m really enjoying it.”

Marler has had a taste of the tough times ahead already. Currently splitting his time between training with the academy side and studying at Richmond College, he has undertaken a few training sessions with the first team this season and says his eyes have been opened. “l used to think being a prop was all about just being a power player, but I’ve learned a lot from my time here and with England. Scrummaging is my main strength, but I realise the need to get around the park and become a ball-carrier in today’s game. You only have to look at players like Andrew Sheridan and Carl Hayman to see that.”

Two finer role models you would struggle to find, and Harlequins academy manager Colin Osbourne says Marler is on the right path to emulate them. “Joe has a bit of time ahead of him, but he’s definitely on the right track and has the potential to go far. He’s strong, but is working on his lines of running and his ball-carrying. We wouldn’t invest in someone if we didn’t think that they had a future in the game.”

LONDON, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 26: Dan Biggar of Wales is tackled by Joe Marler of England and Sam Burgess of England during the 2015 Rugby World Cup Pool A match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium on September 26, 2015 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Steve Bardens – World Rugby via Getty Images/World Rugby via Getty Images)

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