Harlequins coach concerned Joe Marler became ‘scapegoat’

Harlequins' Joe Marler shouts instructions during a Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Harlequins and Bristol Bears at Twickenham Stoop - David Rogers/Getty Images

Harlequins’ Joe Marler shouts instructions during a Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Harlequins and Bristol Bears at Twickenham Stoop – David Rogers/Getty Images

Harlequins head coach Tabai Matson believes Joe Marler’s ban has opened a can of worms for players and referees and is concerned that the England prop has become a “scapegoat”.

Marler was given a six-week ban, with a four-week suspension, last week after being found guilty of misconduct. During the Harlequins’ 15–12 defeat to the Bristol Bears on December 27, video cameras recorded an exchange between Marler and Jake Heenan, the Bristol Bears’ back rower, in which Marler called Heenan’s mother “wh***” twice.

Following his side’s 46-17 defeat to Northampton Saints on New Year’s Day at Franklin’s Gardens, Matson referred to Marler’s penalty and any precedent that had been set.

“There are two things to it,” he said. “I just hope that Joe hasn’t been scapegoated for something and that there is indeed a clear mandate that comes from above. This is ultimately what you want.

“And then it’s really the judges. This is the key thing. They are the ones who go out and deliver everything that is required above. As long as there is clarity.

“It just makes it harder for them because I think if you put a sound catcher next week next week to the Premiership matches we would all be very disappointed. It’s a can of worms.

Matson insisted Marler’s absence had “nothing to do” with the Harlequins’ subdued performance, acknowledging that the visitors were lucky to be trailing just 19-3 at half-time.

“Our team will have their egos and emotions shattered,” added Matson. “They’ll have to make sure they bounce back the right way.”

In happier news for Harlequins, Matson revealed that Marcus Smith is “days not weeks” from returning to first-team action and the mid-flight is “really tracking” his recovery from the ankle injury he suffered in England last autumn match against South Africa last November. That said, it seems unlikely that Smith will hold a meeting next Sunday with the Sale Sharks, for which Marler will also be absent.

Marcus Smith playing for Harlequins - Bob Bradford / Getty Images

Marcus Smith playing for Harlequins – Bob Bradford / Getty Images

Meanwhile, Courtney Lawes remains in the fight for fitness. The 33-year-old has been limited to just over 80 minutes in two club appearances for Northampton this season. Lawes is said to be suffering from a muscle problem after his concussion.

“He still can’t get over his buttock injury,” explained Phil Dowson, Northampton’s director of rugby. “He didn’t get over it over Christmas, so it’s about making sure he’s 100 percent fit before he goes back to the mixer. I don’t think he’s too far gone, but he’s frustrated because he keeps rejecting him.”

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