British & Irish Lions

Genital grope was inappropriate but not sexual harassment, says England prop

Joe Marler (Getty Images)
Joe Marler (Getty Images)
  • In March, Joe Marler was found guilty of " grabbing, twisting or squeezing" Alun Wyn Jones’ genitals during a Six Nations game.
  • The England prop was banned for 10 weeks but, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, did not serve a single game off.
  • Marler said people who deemed his act to be "sexual harassment in the workplace" blew his mind but he paused to take stock of their opinions.The 29-year-old has become infamous for being a wind-up merchant in rugby circles, getting a rise out of opponents and team-mates alike.

England prop Joe Marler said his widely condemned genital grab on Welsh captain Alun Wyn Jones, during a tense Six Nations game in March, was inappropriate but not sexual harassment in the workplace as some opined.

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Marler was speaking to Alex Payne on The Virtual Rugby Show, a weekend-long rugby dialogue with prominent British and global rugby figures in support of Lawrence Dallaglio's Dallaglio RugbyWorks foundation.

Marler, who was hit with a 10-week suspension following the incident, which expired 7 June, said he hadn't spoken to Wyn Jones about it since right after the incident but admitted he was wrong.

However, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Marler’s suspension meant he didn’t serve a single game out and would return to the field when the English Premiership resumed.

"We spoke when the huge storm was going off, then," said Marler.

"I understood his position as a 140-odd capped international with some heavy gravitas in the game, the position he holds and the pressure he can sometimes be put under.

"What I did was inappropriate and wrong on that stage. The people that came out and compared it to sexual assault in the workplace completely blew my mind but I did stop for a second and take on their opinions and how they were made to feel about it all.

"They are completely entitled to their opinion and I respect that. However, I didn’t sexually assault someone in the workplace. I tickled someone's k***, as a laugh, who I'd known for several years now, on the wrong stage, really.

"I should have probably waited for there not to be cameras around but it was a bit of a brain fart."

The bizarre incident happened in the first half of England's 33-30 win over Wales, where there was a lot of argy-bargy going on between the sides at scrums and confrontational areas of the pitch.

At his hearing, Marler admitted to "grabbing, twisting or squeezing" Wyn Jones' genitalia and was found guilty.

Wales head coach Wayne Pivac said after the game: "There's no place for that in the game."

According to the 29-year-old Marler, he was trying to "have a laugh" after a series of "handbags" scuffles between the two sets of rivals.

He said: "The pushing and shoving was going on for ages. It's not like you could have gloves off and whack each other like a goon (enforcer) in ice hockey.

"There's all this tête-à-tête going on, again and again for ages and I just went over to have a laugh with him."

Marler, who is capped 71 times for England, has become known as a bit of a wind-up merchant in rugby circles. In 2016 he was first banned for his "Gypsy boy" comment to Scarlets prop Samson Lee, during a Wales and England match.

That same year, he copped a two-week ban for kicking Grenoble hooker Arnaud Héguy's head during a European Challenge Cup semi-final game between the French club and his English club Harlequins.

Although he sounded more contrite than he initially was during the immediate aftermath of the penis groping saga earlier this year, Marler admitted to getting a rise out of opponents and teammates in equal measure.

"On the field, I've always enjoyed winding Coley (Dan Cole) up because, as close as we are off the field as a really good mate of mine, whenever he gets on the field, he just can’t have a laugh," he said, in part jest.

"He's always moaning at the ref and can't even crack a smile. [I was] not havin' it. I do things to him at the bottom of rucks that I’d probably get banned for. But it’s always friendly.

"He just hates it when he gets wound up. Off the field, I don't really pick on anyone. I wind everyone up until the point where they don't want me around anymore."

- Compiled by Sibusiso Mjikeliso

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