‘It was my time to move on’ – Departing Harlequins back Joe Marchant

Marchant scored a try as the Barbarians beat the All Blacks XV at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
©Dante K Photography

It was on Friday afternoon that Harlequins confirmed that England international Joe Marchant would be departing the club.

For some time it has been rumoured that the centre would be departing London for pastures new, with Top 14 club Stade Francais heavily linked with the 26-year-old.

A product of the Harlequins academy, Marchant has racked up over 130 appearances for the club since making his debut in 2015, spent time with the Blues in Super Rugby in 2020 and contributed significantly to the team’s Gallagher Premiership side in the 2020/21 season.

Making his England debut against Wales in 2019 as England prepared to travel to Japan for the Rugby World Cup, the centre would not represent his country again for two years and became a more regular fixture under Eddie Jones.

Even playing on the wing more regularly to prove his case for international selection, after playing in England’s opening Test against Australia in the summer, Marchant has found himself not selected for the Autumn Nations Series campaign.

Instead, Guy Porter and Will Joseph got opportunity at outside centre, the former scoring a brace as England comfortably beat Japan at Twickenham on Saturday. On the Sunday, Marchant would represent the Barbarians against the All Blacks XV. 

Scoring an acrobatic try in a 35-31 win for the side coached by Scott Robertson and Ronan O’Gara, in which England hopeful Zach Mercer also scored a try, Marchant is coy about where his future may be in the mixed zone at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, saying “I’m not sure. We’ll see.” when asked where his future lies.

“Obviously very sad, it has been a tough week,” Marchant, when asked about the announcement of his departure, said.

“To get my statement out about leaving the club I have been at nine years, and I have loved every minute of being at the club and I really appreciate all the support that everyone has given me there, but it was my time – I think – to move on and I am really excited for it.”

Playing alongside Zach Mercer is possibly the best contrast when dissecting Marchant’s individual situation. Like Marchant, Mercer was on the edges of the England squad and instead of plugging away at Bath, he took the leap and went to France to play for Montpellier.

A year later the back-row had won the Top 14 and in September was announced as the competition’s player of the year. Just 25, Mercer earned two England caps in 2018, and despite having been one of the form players in England was left in the cold by England.

Going to France and proving himself in a different environment has only enhanced the No.8’s stock further. 

Never shying away from the fact that he wants to play for England again, it was announced a short time ago that the firmer Bath man would be joining Gloucester at the end of this season with the intention of being available for World Cup selection.

The perfect example of what could be possible for Marchant when he heads to new horizons, the forward having had his enjoyment of the game reignited.

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“I don’t think you want to sit in England and just get stale, like what I did,” Mercer said. “That’s why I left and its rejuvenation that makes you enjoy rugby again.

“That’s what I did, I was sat at Bath and not playing or whatever and then I got the opportunity to go to Montpellier, I won player of the year and won the league. It is not always that simple, but it makes you love rugby again.”

England, as always, is the central thread to any players storyline on the edge of Eddie Jones’ selection. Mercer is the player to have bucked the trend when falling out of favour, but now is very much reaping those rewards and will more than likely get a shot at selection next summer.

“Zach has had an unbelievable time in France, you can see that he’s become a better player for it,” Marchant said. “He has obviously loved coming back into this environment and being over in England, and I think especially as he’s coming back isn’t he to be able to play in the World Cup, which for him will be awesome and I think he’ll really take it on.”

In recent weeks, there have been plenty of rugby rumours surrounding players moving to France. Exeter Chiefs and England back-row Sam Simmonds has confirmed that he will be moving to Montpellier, while Jack Nowell, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Manu Tuilagi, Anthony Watson and Kyle Sinckler are also current England internationals touted as entertaining interest from overseas.

A move overseas for any England player shuts the door on selection for the national team. It is not a new thing, but with the squeezing of the salary cap and the loss of both Wasps and Worcester Warriors this season, places in the Premiership are limited and not at a premium.

Marchant has not revealed his next landing spot although he is strongly linked with Stade Francais in the Top 14
©Dante K Photography

It has been reiterated by Simmonds and Eddie Jones that the No.8 will be available for England through structuring his contract so that it begins after the World Cup, the selection of players overseas showing no sign of ending at any time in the near future.

“Playing for England is my main thing, and if I get the opportunity to play in the World Cup, I will play,” Marchant said. “We’ll see what happens the rest of the season at Quins. I have got to put my best foot forward for the club, but for England as well and if I get the chance to play at the World Cup I’ll be absolutely delighted.”

But does Marchant know what he must do in order to re-enter the England pecking order?

“I have had lots of conversations with Eddie,” Marchant said, “and I think he just wants me playing my best rugby and he has been very clear that if he thinks I am playing my best rugby then he will bring me in.

“For me, I have just got to keep putting my best foot forward, and if that happens then brilliant, I will be able to put the shirt on again, but if not then I will just keep working harder to try and get back into the squad.”

Marchant’s long farewell to Harlequins will begin tomorrow night at the Twickenham Stoop as he starts against the Barbarians for Quins in a fixture organised to offset the loss of revenue from their scheduled home game against Wasps last Sunday.

Whatever comes next for Marchant, he will benefit for it. Whatever comes next for Marchant, he will benefit for it. Whether he follows the same path as Mercer and unlocks some world-class form or simply enjoys a new lifestyle to the fullest, the only question now remaining being; where next?