Given the spotlight on Joe Marler at the moment, even when he’s in the dark he must still feel rugby’s glare on him.
Friday’s return from suspension saw the England loosehead turn in a dominant display at scrum-time up against Dayna Edwards and Walter Desmaison of Grenoble, but that became the footnote to his comeback.
Instead all the talking has surrounded his flick of a boot towards the head of Grenoble hooker Armand Héguy, and rightly so, because even if the severity of the foul play is questioned – you just don’t do it – there can be no argument around the direness of his timing.
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Marler’s season has seen him be suspended by the highest governing body in the sport, forced to make numerous apologies for his actions, to donate a five-figure sum to charity and most importantly watch his reputation take a beating.
Naturally his director of rugby Conor O’Shea defended Marler as best he could from having watched one replay of the incident on Friday night. But O’Shea knows his prop is now a marked man.
“Should he do it? No. Is it a red card? No. It’s disappointing to have to talk about it because I thought his scrummaging was excellent,” he said (via the Irish Examiner)
“But he is under the microscope. Things happen, we never condone it but if that is a red card there’s a heck of a lot of things that happen on the pitch that are worse.
“So I’d focus on the positives, I’ll have a word with him, but there are things happen on the ground. He got up, he did something, but it wasn’t a red card.
“You have to control your emotion, you have to learn to control your emotion. Players play on the edge and you can’t just suddenly switch that off. Was that a lash-out? It wasn’t.
“Was there stuff going on on the ground? Yes. But players play on the edge and you can’t just suddenly switch that off.”
England head coach Eddie Jones will never want his players to lose that edge but a man regarded as a yellow card risk, or worse, is the last thing he needs in Australia.
If a player can’t be trusted, how can he be picked? Marler may understandably be frustrated that a fine outing in the scrum, his bread and butter, has been overshadowed by the split-second decision to get rid of an opponent on the deck. But this is the corner he finds himself in.
Reports that should have focused on the ease of Harlequins’ 30-6 win against a tricky opponent, or the narratives of Nick Evans’ long-awaited return from a broken leg with a special try along with this being O’Shea’s last shot at silverware with the club he has transformed, were instead scrapped and rehashed to focus on an off-the-ball incident not even picked up by the match officials.
At the time of writing Marler is yet to be cited, but it’s hard to see how he won’t be.
His tour to Australia hangs in the balance at a time when his rival for England’s loosehead slot, Mako Vunipola, is in fine form.
Ben Coles, Pundit Arena
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