Joe Marler has been banned for two matches and fined £20,000 following a disciplinary hearing into a charge of misconduct that was brought by World Rugby after he called the Wales prop Samson Lee “Gypsy boy” during the Six Nations match between England and Wales at Twickenham.
Marler, the Harlequins prop, will miss his club’s next two matches against London Irish in the European Challenge Cup quarter-final on Saturday and against Saracens in the Premiership at Wembley, and has been told to pay the fine, which is around 20% of his grand slam fee, to an equality charity in the UK after admitting the charge. He is free to play again on 18 April.
Marler’s case was heard by a three-man independent judicial committee sitting in London on Tuesday after the Six Nations decided the case, which breached the foul play regulation governing verbal abuse of players, did not merit a disciplinary hearing because England had reprimanded him and the words, which were picked up on the referee’s microphone and were quickly uploaded on to social media, were uttered “in the heat of the moment”.
The panel, chaired by the Australian barrister Terry Willis, ruled that the breach of the regulations was “serious” after reviewing the evidence, which included a detailed analysis of the broadcast feed, and hearing submissions on Marler’s behalf by his legal representative, Mark Milliken-Smith, QC.
It found Marler had used “unsporting and discriminatory language towards Lee” and he had, by his actions, “breached World Rugby Regulation 20 (which covers statements that are unsporting, insulting and/or discriminatory by reason of race or ethnic origin) and the code of conduct and brought the game into disrepute”.
The panel noted Marler was “proactive” in apologising to Lee during the half-time interval at Twickenham and that he subsequently issued a public and unreserved apology for his comments, in which he acknowledged that heat of the moment was not a defence. His previous good conduct was taken into account in cutting the low entry point for the offence from four to two weeks.
World Rugby took action, as it was entitled to do as the game’s governing body, after asking the Six Nations, which took four days to reach its decision, whether it had followed the process laid down for such offences. It wanted to know, in particular, whether a judicial officer had been involved given the “heat of the moment” reference.
As soon as it received a response, it launched its own investigation, which resulted in Marler being charged. World Rugby’s intervention polarised opinion, with many in the game feeling it prolonged an incident that had been dealt with while others argued the words the props used were racially abusive and merited punishment.
The decision of the panel was announced nearly seven hours after the hearing started, unusually quickly in misconduct cases where the normal procedure is to wait for the full written judgment to become available, which can take weeks. Given the length of time the affair had dragged on, that was not considered to be an option.
Attention will now turn to the Six Nations which will be expected to tighten up its disciplinary procedures after World Rugby noted: “We exercised the right to take appropriate action before an independent judicial committee in the absence of such a process by Six Nations Rugby in accordance with the regulations.”
The RFU said on Tuesday night that the independent committee’s decision would not be appealed. “We acknowledge the outcome of today’s hearing,” an RFU spokesman said. “The decision will not be appealed and we now consider the matter closed.”
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