RPA: Joe Marler disciplinary process "defies belief"
The Rugby Players' Association insists the prolonged disciplinary process that hangs over England prop Joe Marler "defies belief".
In a strongly worded statement released on Tuesday afternoon, players' union chief executive Damian Hopley offered a robust defence of Marler and claimed he is the victim of an "excruciating media witch hunt".
Marler faces a misconduct hearing on April 5 after verbally abusing Wales front row Samson Lee with the slur "gypsy boy" in the 25-21 victory at Twickenham earlier this month.
World Rugby ordered that the case be heard by an independent judicial committee due to its misgivings over the original investigation conducted by Six Nations organisers, who failed to punish Marler despite his admission of guilt.
The 25-year-old was reprimanded by England but received no sanction, while Rugby Football Union chief executive Ian Ritchie declared the probe's verdict should be the "end of the matter".
Hopley insists World Rugby's intervention means Marler, who apologised to Lee at half-time during the Six Nations match, is to be tried twice for the same offence.
"Now that the World Rugby hearing date has finally been set - over three weeks since the matter was concluded by the 6 Nations - it is important to place on the record how we have watched the events around this ongoing disciplinary process unfold in a state of disbelief," Hopley said.
"As people throughout the game know, Joe is no racist. He made a comment when provoked and is now being hung out to dry in this excruciating media witch hunt whilst World Rugby have intervened against the RFU and the Six Nations.
"To put Joe in this position after he apologised to the opposition player, admitted his error of judgement and also received a severe rebuke from the RFU and the tournament smacks of double jeopardy.
"Everyone recognises there is no place in the game for these provocations but let's be absolutely clear, Joe is not racially motivated and this matter should have been closed when it was originally dealt with three weeks ago.
"We will be watching the ensuing process extremely carefully but the thought of World Rugby calling for yet another hearing and therefore prolonging this episode defies belief.
"The apology was accepted, Joe held his hand up and it is now time to draw a line and move on."
The RPA's position is at odds with that of Wales, who voiced their concern that Marler was spared sanction for a comment they view as racist.
The issue has polarised opinion, but amid the controversy there has been universal agreement on the farcical nature of the Six Nations' original investigation, resulting in intervention from World Rugby.
Four days after the incident occurred, tournament organisers cleared Marler after judging his remorse, apology at half-time and subsequent reprimand by England as sufficient punishment.
Accompanying the Six Nations' statement on the outcome was the mitigation that the insult was "made in the heat of the moment", a comment that is known to have bemused World Rugby. Furthermore, no details of how the probe was conducted have been released.
Verbal abuse of a player based on religion, race, colour, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation or otherwise carries an entry-point sanction of four weeks.