sport news England's Joe Marler reveals that he had thoughts about ending it all and opens ...

There is a brief flash of chaos in the Marler household. Two of his children, Jasper and Maggie, have just been dropped off at school and his wife Daisy is rounding up their youngest, Felix, for a trip to the supermarket. 

It is the morning rush hour. Joe Marler is trying to get to grips with the coffee machine and their eight-week old puppy, Ziggy, is tearing across the kitchen with a chewed-up bandage.

'Why couldn't we just do this over f**king Zoom?' quips Marler, attempting to regain control of the hot drinks. 'Isn't everything done over Zoom these days?' 

Joe Marler opens up to Sportsmail about mental health and other career challenges

Joe Marler opens up to Sportsmail about mental health and other career challenges

The 30-year-old prop has played 66 times for England and has represented the Lions

The 30-year-old prop has played 66 times for England and has represented the Lions

We are here to talk about mental health. I argue that the sensitivities of the subject are better discussed in person.

'That's part of the problem, isn't it?' he replies. 'Everyone thinks mental health is a "sensitive subject", so they're too scared to talk about it. It's like it's some kind of taboo. 

'People suddenly start walking on eggshells the moment mental health gets mentioned. There are a lot of people sat at home depressed because they think we shouldn't be talking about it.'

Marler, 30, finishes pouring the coffees before taking a seat. He has been working on his 'latte art' skills. 'The real reason we're not on Zoom is because you wanted a free f**king coffee, didn't you?' he says, handing over a flat white with a splattered milk finish on the top layer of foam. 'This one's the, erm, star constellation pattern.'

It is Marler's first interview since pre-lockdown. He has a new look. He shaved off his thinning trademark Mohawk during the Six Nations and he now has a full head of conventional hair. Has he decided to leave his rebellious streak behind? It is an impressive transformation and attention is drawn towards his bandana.

'Spit it out, mate,' he says, before pausing. 'You think I've had my lid done, don't you? You think I've had a bloody hair transplant! There's no way I'd shell out 10-grand for a hair transplant with all the COVID pay cuts. 

Joe Marler has a new look, he has shaved off the mohawk and has a full head of hair

Joe Marler has a new look, he has shaved off the mohawk and has a full head of hair

'The only way I'd get a hair transplant is if it were free as some part of advertising deal… have you seen me advertising hair transplants? No. Lockdown happened and my hair started growing back… magically. 

'Don't worry, there's another Mohawk on the horizon. I'm just letting it grow out first. I've never had a punk hair-gel Mohawk. That could be a bit of weapon in the scrums, couldn't it?'

The radical haircuts are more than just a statement. They are part of Marler's DNA. They have been a key feature of the hard man image, alongside the tattoos and huge physique that has defined his career.

'If you're going to put yourself out there with a red Mohawk and white boots, you've got to make sure you perform,' he says. 'Otherwise you're just that knob with the s**t hair. The Mohawk was a way of finding my feet in a sport where most of the guys were from private schools. 

'I had a chip on my shoulder. I thought, "I'm going to prove a point here and I'm going to do it looking like a tw*t". I never wanted to just go along with the norm and do as I was told.'

His talent, appearance and unpredictable personality have always stood out. But there is more to him than meets the eye. Marler's machismo image, as he is about to reveal, has been a cover-up job. 

'There was this moment when I was younger,' he begins. 'I was 19, new on the scene and we had a game against Northampton. I went down for a scrum against Brian Mujati and I heard Phil Dowson on the flank going, "Oh, here he is, the bipolar kid, he'll struggle today".

'My head was gone as soon as I heard that. Bang. I was thinking, "What? How the f**k does he know what I'm like?". I lost the plot and I couldn't focus for the rest of the game.  

Marler believes his hairstyles in the past have meant he has to perform or he'll 'look like a tw*t'

Marler believes his hairstyles in the past have meant he has to perform or he'll 'look like a tw*t'

'We were shaking hands at the end of the game and I said to him, "Here, where's that chat come from? What's the craic there?" Dows knew Ian Peel, who had coached me at age-group level. He just said, "Oh, Peeley mentioned how you're a bit up and down, mate, so I saw it as an opportunity".

'He wasn't wrong. I did blow hot and cold. Those particular comments didn't really affect me — I always got on with Dows — but they stuck with me. Rugby is such a macho, alpha-male dominated sport and you don't want to expose yourself. You don't want people thinking, "This bloke's weak as p*ss, he talks about his feelings, he'll crumble, let's get into him".

'I didn't want my struggles with mental health to provide the opposition with an advantage. After that game, there was this worry that I could be exposed, so I tried to become this fake tough guy. 

'I made a thing out of telling people to p*ss off. The scary haircuts and everything else were just part of this persona of, "F**k you lot, I'm all right, I don't cry, I don't kiss or cuddle".'

It is an image that his friends and family were less familiar with. It was not the Marler they knew and loved. 'I would always think in two different worlds: the real world and the fake rugby world,' he says. 'The rugby world was a fake character. It wasn't real life.'

He kept the two worlds separate. So far apart that he was prepared to drive 140 miles to and from Harlequins training every day. But eventually the two worlds collided.  

Marler (left, below) says he was teased by Phil Dowson (right, below) about his mental health

Marler (left, below) says he was teased by Phil Dowson (right, below) about his mental health

'For a few years, I was able to park things,' he says. 'Take the 2015 World Cup... we bombed out miserably, which was obviously dark, but I could come home to the real world to be a dad and a husband. No one died. Park it.'

Then came 'Gypsygate' when he targeted Wales prop Samson Lee with the insult in a Six Nations match in 2016. 

'Then things were different,' he says. 'Usually, you punch someone, you get a ban and you go back to real life. This was different. I came away from that rugby world but everywhere I went, it was always, "You're a racist", "You're a piece of sh*t". My family would hear it. Suddenly those two worlds merged and I couldn't get away from it.

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'I had a meltdown. It was just engulfing me. I'm not a racist. I'll tell you again: I'm 100 per cent not a racist. But the more people say, "You're a racist", "You're a piece of sh*t", the more you start to question yourself. Suddenly I'm thinking, "Am I actually a bad person?"

'It came to a head when England were going to tour Australia in 2016. We had a camp in Brighton. I just thought, "I don't want to be here any more. I can't be doing with this sh*t. What's the point?"

'I was getting real world sh*t, as opposed to fake rugby stuff. I could see it affecting my wife and my family and I thought, "Screw this, I can't do this any more". I couldn't be arsed with it and I went down after the first tackle in training, saying my calf was tight. 

'The physio was like, "It seems all right, mate?" I was just looking for a way out. I sat down with the same physio and told him, "I hate it. I just want to get away to the middle of nowhere, jack it in and escape". 

Marler claims the 'scary haircuts' were just part of a persona of telling people to 'p*** off'

Marler claims the 'scary haircuts' were just part of a persona of telling people to 'p*** off'

'I wanted to be there but I didn't have the tools to be there. I was like a walking contradiction. I chatted to Eddie Jones in the bar and he said, 'Good on ya, all the best'. I thought that would be the last time I spoke to him.

'I got in the car to drive home from Brighton and just felt this massive rush. I rang Dais and said, "I'm on my way home, I've told them I'm not doing it any more". Tears were rolling down my face and I balled my eyes out with relief. 

'I watched that tour as a fan and there were parts of me that still wished I was there. But there were bigger parts of me that thought, "No, I'm good now". The thing is... it was just a quick fix.'

Marler pauses for a sip of his coffee. He has been joined on the sofa by his dogs. His leg is propped up in a recovery pump, easing an accumulation of blood that has discoloured around his knee. Evidently, rugby's toll has been physical as well as mental.

'It's called a Morel-Lavallee injury,' he digresses, briefly. 'Sounds like a type of ice cream, doesn't it? Would you like a flake with that? They drained it with a few syringes and I've basically been left with club foot. 

'Maybe best to wash your hands if the dog brings you that bandage, by the way, because it's been wrapped around my gammy leg. COVID 'n' all that.'

Back to mental health. Marler, in the past, has been an expert at wriggling out of uncomfortable questions with a quick joke or a daft story. Here he is fully engaged. Nothing is off the table as he explains how his world became consumed by negative thoughts. 

Marler was part of 'Gypsygate' when he targeted Wales prop Samson Lee with an insult in 2016

'That stuff didn't really rear its head again until March 2019,' he says. 'I'd gone back into the England set-up, then retired again. The fake world was starting to cross back into the real world. I'd become despondent at home. Not talking.

'I was driving to work every morning, putting the radio on and crying. I was having these thoughts: "You're pathetic. What are you

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