England head coach Eddie Jones has denied that prop Joe Marler has been dropped to the bench for tomorrow’s Grand Slam decider against France as punishment for verbally abusing Wales forward Samson Lee.
Marler was cleared to play against Les Bleus after escaping sanction from the tournament’s disciplinary committee for branding Lee “gypsy boy” as well as striking fellow prop Rob Evans.
Despite starting three of England’s four Six Nations matches, Marler has been replaced by Mako Vunipola in the front row as the Red Rose hunt a first Grand Slam since 2003.
Jones insists the 25-year-old’s omission is for rugby reasons only and not an internal reprimand, while the Australian attempted to refocus minds on England’s mission in Paris.
“Absolutely not,” said Jones, when asked if he had dropped Marler for disciplinary reasons, “[Starting with Mako Vunipola] suits the way we are going to play at the weekend.
“We have a Grand Slam in front of us and a Grand Slam is much more interesting than something that was said seven days ago.”
Marler may not be completely in the clear just yet as World Rugby last night requested a report on how the Six Nations arrived at their decision over his confrontation with Lee.
Jones, meanwhile, accused Wales of mixed messages after its governing body the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) yesterday issued a statement expressing its surprise that Marler had gone unpunished for his “gypsy boy” comment.
The WRU’s position was odds with that of Wales head coach Warren Gatland, who dismissed the incident as “banter”, although later apologised for taking such a stance.
“If you look at Wales’s statements, they don’t know if they’re Arthur or Martha,” added Jones. “There was a decision made, that is what we have these judiciary committees for. I said I would let the process run its route – it has run its route.”
Jones also implied that the timing of their statement was a deliberate attempt by Wales to undermine England’s quest for a Grand Slam after they wrapped up the Six Nations title at the weekend.
“Everyone is keen for England not to win the Grand Slam,” said Jones. “Why else would they [release the statement]?”
The other change to England’s starting XV from their 25-21 victory over Wales on Saturday sees Danny Care replace Ben Youngs at scrum-half.
“Ben Youngs last week was absolutely outstanding,” added Jones. “Danny gets first go this week because it suits our game plan.”