Former Australia captain James Horwill believes more top players will follow Joe Marler into Test oblivion unless an ‘unsustainable’ season structure is addressed.
Marler, below, cited the stress of being away from his young family for extended periods as the chief reason behind his decision to quit England a year from the World Cup – something Harlequins teammate Horwill identifies with from his own 62-cap career with the Wallabies.
Worcester’s Francois Hougaard stepped back from representing South Africa this year, while fellow Premiership stars Faf De Klerk, Willie Le Roux, Francois Louw, Matt Toomua and Tatafu Polota-Nau have been criss- crossing the globe during the Rugby Championship.
Horwill told The Rugby Paper: “It’s a brave decision from Joe and England will miss him, but it’s not a surprise and you’ll probably find other guys having those thoughts.
“If you look at other Premiership guys playing for South Africa and Australia, their frequent flyer miles are through the roof and I don’t think the international season is sustainable.
“I remember back in Australia you used to spend pretty much six months away from home between June and December.
“At one time, I had just 12-14 nights in my own bed in that six-month period, with the rest of the time spent travelling or in hotels.
“It takes a huge toll, especially for players with young families, and although it’s a difficult one, something needs to be done for guys who are travelling all over.
“They’re talking about moving Test windows, and the international game is a big part of what rugby’s about. But the clubs increasingly want their players playing as much as they can as well, particularly in the Premiership and Top 14, so something has to give.”
Marler is just 28 and Horwill fears burnout could affect even younger players.
He added: “If you look at the game in the UK, there are a lot more collisions and the physicality is stepping up. We need to be smarter as a code and look at the impacts, injuries and statistics because we want players to play for as long as they can.
“We don’t want players finishing their careers early or getting burnt out. But what you’re seeing now is guys coming in earlier – at 18 or 19 – and we don’t want them to be hitting 25 and feeling that they’ve been in a marathon already, which is the danger.
“Players have a voice and they must use it. Whatever the authorities have in mind, they can’t expect players to do as they’re told without being consulted.”
Meanwhile, Horwill believes Australia still pose a major threat at next year’s World Cup despite a so far disastrous 2018 that saw them beaten 2-1 by Ireland in June and manage just one victory in their opening five Rugby Championship matches.
Despite calls for head coach Michael Cheika to go, Horwill said: “Results haven’t been there but I don’t think it helps every second week for people to be asking if the coach should be sacked – they should stick with Cheika because he is a good coach. He’s the guy who should take them forward to the World Cup and I still think they’ll do well in Japan.
“There are outside pressures at the moment and a lack of confidence among players to express themselves, but I’m certain that will return.”
Harlequins’ co-captain Horwill is back after summer ankle surgery and has silverware in his sights as he prepares to lead his side into the Challenge Cup.
“It’s a target,” he said. “Paul Gustard’s brought enthusiasm and a new energy since taking over as head coach and we’ve responded well. We’ve got two French teams in Agen and Grenoble first-up but it’s an exciting challenge.”