"Great Help from Joe" - Fin Baxter: England's Next Break Out Prop Talks Marler Mentorship - Ruck

“Great Help from Joe” – Fin Baxter: England’s Next Break Out Prop Talks Marler Mentorship

At just 22-years-old, loose-head prop Fin Baxter is progressing at a rate ahead of his years. Typically, the pillars of a senior scrummaging front row would come into their own around their mid-20s, to take the starting shirt for a club and then push towards international contention.

Baxter however, has already staked his claim to be Harlequins’ number one, and has earned his first England squad call-up for the Summer tour of Japan and New Zealand. The prop earned his first Harlequins cap in December 2020, in the form of an eleven minute Champions Cup cameo against Racing 92.

Fin Baxter of Harlequins during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Harlequins and Exeter Chiefs at Twickenham Stoop, London on Sunday 22nd October 2023 (PHOTO: George Beck/PPAUK)

At just 18-years-old, Baxter was introduced quite early from a propping perspective, but the prospect has taken the learnings in his stride, to stake his claim to the famous quartered shirt. Baxter made his first Harlequins start in the 2022/23 season, as the Quins were beaten in an early season run out against Northampton. This past season saw Baxter start in 15 of his 26 Harlequins caps, as he jostled for possession of the one jersey against Quins and England veteran Joe Marler.

It’s the iconic loose-head whom Baxter accredits his early teachings from, as Marler took the young Baxter under his wing throughout his early days at the Stoop. Speaking in his first England media session following his first senior national squad call-up, Baxter discussed his relationship with mentor Marler, and how he is enjoying the England environment.

“I’m really proud of the year I’ve had, with great help from Joe at the club, and the team there. I’m super proud to be here, I’m just loving being in this environment to get myself up to that Test level.

Fin Baxter of Harlequins before the Gallahgher Premiership match between Saracens and Harlequins at The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London on 25 March 2023 (Photo: Micah Crook/PPAUK)

“He’s been really supportive the whole year. It’s always been nice port of call to have that wealth of experience and knowledge right there. It’s pretty similar – he is who he is. You get honesty which is ultimately what you want. You don’t want any ruffle edges He says what he sees and it is so hopeful.

“He’s done so much in rugby at prop. My previous year I didn’t call on him as much as I should have done, because he is so experienced and willing to help. It’s a silly thing not to do. This year, I’ve got better at it, but I’ve still got more steps to go.”

“Back at Quins, in scrum sessions we look at little bits and bobs: this is too high, your foot alignment is off. But I’ll also go through a few clips with him here and there, or he’ll come to me. It just cements the conversation.”

England A player Fin Baxter (Harlequins) attacking during the International rugby match between England A and Portugal at Mattioli Woods Welford Road on February 25th- PHOTO: Steve Bond/PPAUK

Baxter is currently away in Japan, as England look to complete the first leg of the Japan-New Zealand Summer series this Saturday. England take on the Brave Blossoms in Tokyo, yet the young Baxter has been unable to make the grade for the match day 23 this time around. Despite not being picked for England first test of the Summer, Baxter could well achieve a debut cap against the All Blacks, as he discussed his learnings from the training camp.

“It’s been really cool. Meeting all the new lads. One of my best take aways from the A game (England A v Portugal) was meeting all these new lads and playing with them, listening and taking in what they had on the table.

“With even more boys here and around the Prem, it’s been really cool. Getting reps scrummaging with Gabe (Oghre), who I have never scrummed with before, has been really cool. The way he does it is so different to what we do at Quins. Then taking those notes. Some of it I really love and some if it I don’t. We have the conversations and find the right balance for us as a front row.”

England A player Alfie Barbeary (Bath Rugby) passes to England A player Fin Baxter (Harlequins) during the International rugby match between England A and Portugal at Mattioli Woods Welford Road on February 25th- PHOTO: Steve Bond/PPAUK

“It’s been so nice to have familiar faces here. Dommers (Alex Dombrandt) has really looked out for me, which I’m really appreciative of. It’s the same at the club. It’s good to see him around.”

“So excited for him (Luke Northmore) to be here. He’s done really well to get back from his injury, come in and play well. We were just buzzing.”

A moment of elation that no rugby player ever forgets, Baxter could not contain his excitement when he got the invite from Steve Borthwick to join the training camp. However, there was a juxtaposing feeling as Harlequins failed to qualify for the Premiership play-offs.

Baxter was amongst the first wave of players called into the squad, and would go on to retain his place on the flight to Tokyo, despite the arrivals of the Premiership semi-finalists bulking out the Pennyhill Park pecking order.

‘At Quins we were really disappointed with the way our season ended and when we reflected we were left with that sour taste. We on average performed well all season and the progress we made at the start of the season has been good, especially around accuracy.

Fin Baxter of Harlequins is tackled by Freddie Clarke of Gloucester Rugby during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Gloucester Rugby and Harlequins at Kingsholm Stadium on October 14th, 2023 in Gloucester, England. (Photo by Phil Mingo/PPAUK/Gallagher)

“So it was disappointing. But I was beyond happy to see that email and not really knowing who to tell, what to do. I was like ‘do I tell anyone? I don’t really know how this works’. You hear whispers about who else is going and then you get added to a group chat and see who else is in.”

“I was with Jack Kenningham and Louis Lynagh. I was in a bit of shock and I had to get it off my chest, so I told them.”

Baxter brings a dynamic first step and fleet-footed awareness to the Stoop, that is not often seen amongst professional props. Behind the props ability to evade contact and solid distribution, is a previous playing history as a ball-playing back-rower. Taking inspiration from the likes of local Cobham club mate and former England international Alex Corbisiero, Baxter expressed how he aims to optimise what it means to be a modern day prop.

Fin Baxter of Harlequins signs autographs before the Gallahgher Premiership match between Saracens and Harlequins at The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London on 25 March 2023 (Photo: Micah Crook/PPAUK)

“It’s one of my strengths, playing the ball in those close quarters. Being able to carry explosively but also put other people on to a soft shoulder, or supply the ten behind you. It’s something I really enjoy and it’s really important with how the game is going.”

“I was at Cobham Rugby Club and Alex Corbisiero was at Cobham, so I’d been watching him anyway as a fan of Cobham. I knew what I was in for. The likes of Joe I’ve been watching since then.”

“I played number eight up until 12, and then when I moved to senior school, there were 100s of boys wanting to play in the back row. I thought, ‘well, ultimately I want to play in the first team’. There weren’t many boys wanting to play in the front row and out of all of us back rows, I think I look like I could play there. I’ll take that role, make sure I play in the A team. I didn’t change my game, I just had to learn how to scrum. That’s something I’ve tried to carry on through.”