Rugby World Cup: Borthwick on England's win over Japan
England will be counting on Joe Marler to prove he can keep his discipline in check at the Rugby World Cup after once landing himself in hot water for grabbing an opponent’s genitals. Marler was slapped with a 10-week ban after becoming embroiled in a spat on-pitch with Wales’ Alun Wyn Jones during a Six Nations clash between the two British sides.
The 33-year-old played a part in helping England record their 34-16 victory over Japan on Sunday to make it two wins from two in France, having beaten Argentina 27-10 in the opening fixture. The prop had good fortune to thank for using his head to knock on the ball for Courtney Lawes to score a try as Steve Borthwick’s side stuttered their way to victory.
But it wasn’t always plain sailing for the experienced international when playing for his country. Just over three years ago in March 2020, Marler found himself handed an extended period on the sidelines after a moment of madness in a heated clash with Wales.
In an ugly incident, Marler was adjudged to have grabbed the genitals of Jones, prompting a furious reaction from the Welshman. He was shown a red card for his part in the fracas, which marred what was a momentous win for England after narrowly overcoming the 2019 Grand Slam champions in March 2020, recording a 33-30 victory at Twickenham.
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He appeared before a disciplinary panel days after the incident and was charged with acting against the spirit of good sportsmanship by “grabbing, twisting or squeezing the genitals” of an opponent. Marler accepted he had committed an act of foul play but refuted the suggestion that he had grabbed, twisted or squeezed Jones’ genitals and did not agree with the decision to give him a red card.
Despite his protestations, Marler was suspended for 10 weeks after the citing complaint was upheld by the disciplinary panel. Reflecting on the bizarre events from that day later on, he admitted that his actions were ‘inappropriate and wrong’.
“We [Marler and Jones] spoke when the huge storm was going off, then,” he said, speaking to the Virtual Rugby Show in support of Lawrence Dallaglio’s RugbyWorks foundation in 2020. “I understood his position as a 140-odd capped international with some heavy gravitas in the game, the position he holds and the pressure he can sometimes be put under.
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“What I did was inappropriate and wrong on that stage. The people that came out and compared it to sexual assault in the workplace completely blew my mind but I did stop for a second and take on their opinions and how they were made to feel about it all.
“They are completely entitled to their opinion and I respect that. However, I didn’t sexually assault someone in the workplace. I tickled someone’s k**b, as a laugh, who I’d known for several years now, on the wrong stage, really.”
As it turns out, Marler was able to resume his career with Harlequins without missing a single game because the coronavirus pandemic had brought a halt to all sport in the UK.
But it was clear he had learned his lesson after a heavy backlash from the public and figures in the game – and England will be hoping there is no chance of a repeat as it could derail their hopes of repeating their 2003 triumph.
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