The Joe Marler incident has encapsulated a key point of difference between the Eddie Jones era and the previous Stuart Lancaster regime.
The moment the words “Gypsy boy” left Joe Marler’s mouth he must have regretted it, given his half-time apology to Samson Lee.
Nevertheless he said it and as a professional rugby player and role model to many thousands of youngsters out there, this was not the right message to be sending.
Whatever you think of Marler’s comment, he picked up on Lee’s ethnicity – as recognised under UK law – or his background at the very least, and that’s something players should have moved on from doing many years ago.
Given the clean-cut image previous England head coach Stuart Lancaster tried to project on to his team for four years, you would think Marler might be a little wiser than to make such an utterance. Lancaster had a zero tolerance approach to misdemeanours on and off the field. Remember when Danny Care had a run-in with the law back in 2012? He was charged with drink-driving and Lancaster subsequently banned him from the entire Six Nations campaign.
At the time the England head coach said (via the BBC):
“When we feel he can be trusted to behave appropriately on and off the field then he will be reconsidered for selection.”
Lancaster then did the same thing when Dylan Hartley – now an England Six Nations Championship-winning captain – was banned for headbutting Jamie George in 2015, with Lancaster ruling him out of selection for the 2015 World Cup.
Likewise, Manu Tuilagi was not considered for selection for England after he was involved in an altercation with two female police officers.
Tuilagi pleaded guilty to assault and Lancaster issued this statement (via The Telegraph):
“As role models and ambassadors for the game, the highest standards of behaviour are expected from every England player both on and off the field.
“Having spoken to Manu, he understands and accepts both the seriousness of the offences to which he has pleaded guilty and the consequences of his behaviour to his club, country and the game as a whole.”
After the off-field issues England suffered during the 2011 World Cup, Lancaster made it a priority to build a new ‘culture’ around the England team and ensure they represented the nation appropriately, with exemplary professionalism on and off the pitch.
So what if Lancaster was coach now when Marler said what he said? In all likelihood Marler would have at least been dropped to the bench for the France game or not selected at all. Lancaster would probably have wanted to make an example of him and taken the decision over Marler into his own hands and out of those that belong to the Six Nations Committee.
This, then, highlights a critical point of difference between the Eddie Jones era and the previous Lancaster regime.
The RFU issued a statement yesterday that said (via Wales Online):
“Joe spoke to Samson at half time to apologise and he was reminded by Eddie of his responsibilities as an England player after the game.”
A quiet word from Jones into Marler’s shell-like is enough to reprimand the player and now Marler has not faced any kind of ban for his language or his alleged forearm smash on Wales prop Rob Evans.
The 25-year-old is free to be selected for England’s crucial Grand Slam fixture against the French in Paris. Barring any sudden change of heart from the England coaches, Marler is set to start.
Jones, then, is far more pragmatic in his approach to discipline than Lancaster ever was. If Marler has passed all the reviews over these two incidents then it is no longer Jones’ problem. Jones is there to prepare the England team as best he can for international rugby and does not perceive himself to be a moral compass for his players.
In terms of on-field discipline, the ex-Japan coach does not care about the penalty count about his team but rather when those penalties are given away and the impact they can have on the scoreline (via the Evening Standard):
“The key is knowing when to give away the penalty and the game is played on a knife edge — what’s legal and what isn’t.
“I am not concerned about the number of penalties — I am concerned about when we give them away.”
Stuart Lancaster would often talk about his dissatisfaction with England’s high penalty counts and how he wanted to reduce the number of penalties his team were giving away, but Jones has taken a far more Machiavellian approach to this issue, just as he has done with the likes of Marler.
Even though the personnel within the squad has hardly changed from the last days of the Lancaster era, there has been so much change in the way England approach the game both on and off the field.
One might have respected Lancaster for his ‘no-nonsense’ approach to discipline and team culture, but Jones does not consider himself a bastion of virtue. He’s there to do a job and if England win on Saturday evening, he would have done it in his own inimitable style.
Whilst England may no longer be wearing their halos above their heads, they will be holding aloft a wonderful piece of silverware.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena
Heineken Rugby Club celebrates and rewards real supporters who make the game what it is.
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