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Joe Marler free to face France after avoiding ban over Samson Lee incident

Joe Marler is clear to face France on Saturday as England go in search of the Grand Slam after avoiding punishment for his verbal abuse of Samson Lee and for striking Rob Evans in the Twickenham clash with Wales.

A swift apology and continuing contrition from Marler for calling Lee "gypsy boy" during England's 25-21 win last weekend bought the England prop favour from Six Nations disciplinary officials.

Earlier on Wednesday, Marler learned he would not face a ban for the incident involving Evans, as a disciplinary hearing found that it was not a red-card offence.

Regarding Marler's comment to Lee, the Six Nations said in a statement: " Six Nations Rugby are aware of the seriousness of Mr Marler's comment and do not in any way condone what was said.

"Six Nations Rugby have considered the reports in detail and noted the fact that Mr Marler deeply regretted what he had said and had immediately and unprompted apologised to Mr Lee at half-time. They also noted that head coach of England Eddie Jones had reprimanded Mr Marler and reminded him of his responsibilities as an international rugby player.

"Six Nations Rugby have accepted the explanation provided that the comment was one made in the heat of the moment.

"Having taken all the facts into account no further disciplinary action will be taken. Six Nations Rugby consider that this matter is now closed."

Marler had accepted he had committed foul play and the citing for the Evans incident was upheld, and he was immediately up front about what he said to Lee.

His remark was also picked up on the microphone of referee Craig Joubert.

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, so Marler was expected to miss the Stade de France showdown.

Marler said in the statement released by Six Nations: "I have accepted from the outset that I made the misguided remark to Samson. It was made in the heat of the moment. I apologised, unprompted, to Samson Lee at half-time and this was accepted.

"As ever we shook hands and exchanged smiles at the end of the game. I have been warned very clearly by Eddie Jones how comments like this are unacceptable. I will certainly conduct myself differently in future.

"I do not condone racism in any form, at any time, deeply regret the incident and intend to reflect the behaviours expected of an England player going forward. Once again I apologise for the upset my inappropriate remark has caused."

England are due to name their starting XV for the France game, a match that could deliver the team's first Grand Slam for 13 years, at 10am on Thursday.

It was initially believed Six Nations would hold off until Thursday before announcing a ruling on Marler's comment to Lee, but a change of plan saw the verdict released late on Wednesday evening.

The 25-year-old was spoken to by Jones the following day, with the head coach declaring the insult was "not in the spirit of the game" and he was reminded of his responsibilities as an England player.

Yet despite the admission of guilt which was made public on Sunday, it took surprisingly long for rugby's judiciary to reach a conclusion to its investigation.

England's preparations for the eagerly-awaited climax to the 2016 Six Nations have been disrupted by the uncertainty surrounding Marler.

The contingency plan if Harlequins star Marler had been prevented from playing was to promote Mako Vunipola into the starting XV with Matt Mullan filling the vacancy on the replacements' bench.

Forwards coach Steve Borthwick said: "Joe has trained. He trained unbelievably hard on Tuesday and the three looseheads have pushed each other on really well in every session. In that sense the hearing hasn't been disruptive."

Meanwhile, Borthwick insists captain Dylan Hartley is fit to face France despite sitting out a key training session on Tuesday afternoon and the retention of a third hooker in Tommy Taylor as travelling reserve.

"Dylan's fine. He trained in the morning but was rested for the afternoon session," Borthwick said.

"But he's fine. He's not carrying an injury, he's good. It was a case of monitoring loads and he was rested for the afternoon session."

England flanker James Haskell insists the type of microphone that picked up Marler's comments are now a feature of the modern game and players must understand that what they say will be broadcast.

"I had something in 2011 when I got eye-gouged, I vocalised my distaste for the gouging and it was broadcast to 20 million people on ITV. So I've been on the receiving end of it," Haskell said.

"People don't understand that and you've got to appreciate that we're trying to appeal to a wider audience. Some things are acceptable and some things are not.

"The problem is, you're not going to back-track, you're not going to get rid of referees' mics, so that is part and parcel of the game now.

"When you're on a rugby field, for 80 minutes you play physical and hard. I don't actually talk a lot on the field, believe it or not!

"I do all my talking and joking on the field. I don't go in for trash-talking - it's not really my vibe.

"I don't notice much of it (talking to opponents on the field). Some people are more prone to doing it than others.

"Some guys vocalise things and if you give away a penalty or something like that, they'll get in to you. Ronan O'Gara used to be unbelievable at it. He used to love it.

"But it's all done in a good-humoured manner. The best thing is that you finish the game, give the guy a wry smile, shake his hand and a hug, and you're on to the next job.

"But that doesn't necessarily translate into what people see and what the media see.

"We've all got to understand that the world is changing at a rate of knots, have some empathy and hold ourselves in check."


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