Gatland sorry for labelling Marler abuse of Lee as 'banter'


London (AFP)

Wales coach Warren Gatland apologised on Wednesday for labelling England prop Joe Marler's verbal abuse of Welsh counterpart Samson Lee as "banter".

Marler called Lee a "gypsy boy" during England's 25-21 win over Wales at Twickenham last weekend.

The Harlequins front-row apologised to Lee at half-time and England have since reminded Marler of his responsibilities.

England's victory helped them secure the Six Nations title and Wales ended the weekend knowing the best they can hope for come the end of their final match at home to Italy on Saturday is a second-placed finish.

Gatland tried to downplay Marler's exchange with Lee by saying Tuesday: "Look, we have no issue. It was just a bit of banter, as far as I am concerned. And that's the way that Samson said it.

"Fifteen, 20 years ago, those things were sorted out with fists and stuff...We don't want to make a massive issue out of it.

"In modern sport, players have got to be aware that there are microphones everywhere and you have to act accordingly to the possibility that comments are going to be picked up on the field."

The same match saw Marler cited for striking Wales prop Rob Evans, with Gatland saying he was "more concerned" about the England front row's use of the forearm.

Six Nations organisers said Tuesday they would not comment on Marler's remarks to Lee until his hearing for striking had been concluded.

Meanwhile Gatland, in a Welsh Rugby Union statement issued Wednesday, apologised for appearing to take Marler's words lightly.

"I don't condone racism of any kind. I apologise for any offence my use of the word banter may have caused," he said.

"My intention was to take the focus away from Samson, a private individual, and enable him and the rest of squad to prepare for the final game of the championship."

The New Zealander added: "My comments were made following a discussion with Samson about the incident. He believed Joe made his comment in the heat of the moment, he later regretted it and apologised, but Samson believes it wasn't racist in intent and he accepted Joe's apology.

"While we await the findings of the Six Nations investigation into this incident it would be inappropriate for me, Samson or the team to comment further on this matter.”

Lee said had no problems with his coach's original response.

"I would like to explain my point of view," said Lee in the same statement. "I stand beside Warren. I personally believe the comments to have been intended as banter and accepted Joe's apology on Saturday.

"Warren is fiercely protective of the team and his comments were made based on conversations with me and with the intention of deflecting attention away from me."

If found guilty of an offence arising from either incident, Marler is all but guaranteed to receive a ban that will rule him out of this Saturday's match in Paris, where England will be trying to complete a first Grand Slam since their World Cup-winning year of 2003.

Verbal abuse of a player based on religion, race, colour, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation or otherwise carries a minimum sanction of a four-week suspension.

Meanwhile the "entry-point" ban for striking, which Marler faces after appearing to land a forearm in the face of Evans, is two weeks.