Marland Yarde: Hard Yardes on the wing
Exciting Exile loves the big occasion and a date with the Barbarians beckons at Twickenham
If there are some serious headaches thumping in the fertile rugby territory of west London and its environs, a chat with Marland Yarde works like a big fat aspirin. "I love big crowds," says the 20-year-old London Irish wing who is in line to tour with England this summer. "It's one of my fascinations about playing, I love that sort of stuff. The whole thing about the game, the trip to the stadium... it's awesome. I really get fired up about it."
And with a shake of his blond-tipped dreadlocks – "My auntie's a hairdresser" – and regular flashes of his teeth – "My stepdad's a dentist" – Yarde's recollection of last weekend's crucial Premiership win over Worcester in front of almost 20,000 spectators at the Madejski Stadium and the prospect of today's follow-up against Sale at the same venue soothes the brow furrowed at London Welsh's sad plight on a slippery slope towards an uncertain future, and London Wasps' ongoing search for a new brand and new home.
Yet Irish have not been without their upsets. A huge turnover in players and coaches – the Armitage brothers leaving for Toulon and Toby Booth, Neal Hatley and Mike Catt departing last summer – left Yarde feeling bereft at the start of this season. Results suffered to the extent of a seven-match losing run. The man who played in two Under-20 World Championships for England puts a positive spin on this too: "I was in my comfort zone with the old coaches, I had to build new relationships. I guess it's part of professional sport. People do move on. If anything, it helped me in growing up."
Twickenham could be the setting for Yarde's first senior England cap. The Barbarians match there on 26 May and the two-Test trip to Argentina will be made without those chosen for the concurrent Lions tour. England were short of tries in the Six Nations and the head coach, Stuart Lancaster, may review both the form of Chris Ashton on the right wing and the tactic of picking two full-backs in the back three.
"Marland has the attributes to be a 50-capper," says his head coach at Irish, Brian Smith, an England backs coach not long ago. "Stuart Lancaster is doing the right thing, bringing players in gradually, not churning and burning." Although Yarde, playing mainly on the left this season after being on the right before, has only two tries in 15 Premiership matches – he had an ankle injury in the autumn – Smith praises his kick-chase, ability under the high ball, and high numbers in turnovers and defenders beaten. He also measures Yarde in metres run, but more specifically in the chances he creates for others with his awareness.
That ankle injury knocked Yarde behind Christian Wade, Jonny May and Tom Biggs, who were the three wings picked for England Saxons in their two matches this year. Whatever Smith says, all these men know that if they are to nail down an England spot for the home World Cup in 2015 they need to get cracking.
Yarde has already made one pivotal decision in his life. Aged 14 and 15 he played for Queens Park Rangers' centre of excellence. "It was really tough, because I really wanted to do it but my parents wanted me to carry on with my education," he says. His mother is from St Lucia, where Yarde was born before going to school in Gunnersbury. She was delighted when he earned a scholarship to Whitgift in Croydon, alma mater of Danny Cipriani and football's Victor Moses. Yarde was then picked for England's Under-16 A rugby side along with fly-halves Owen Farrell and George Ford and chose to go the oval-ball route, pleasing his Vietnamese stepfather, who played rugby at university.
"If the opportunity with England does arrive I'll be looking to take it with both hands," Yarde says. As a devotee of the character Bane in the Dark Knight movies, he will extract the maximum enjoyment too.
"A few of us went to watch the film and I've been loving that character," he says with a gale of laughter. "It's the voice and how macho he is, his whole demeanour, it's so sick. When I watch superhero movies I'm not really a fan of the superhero because he always wins. It's always the villain who does the crazy stuff."
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