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The feeling at Bristol with Heenan sledger Joe Marler set to visit

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Bob Bradford/CameraSport via Getty Images)

Pat Lam has assured that Joe Marler will receive a friendly welcome when he turns up with Harlequins at Bristol this Sunday. Out of-favour England loosehead Marler was banned for six weeks – four suspended – for verbally abusing Bears’ back-rower Jake Heenan when the two clubs clashed at The Stoop in December.

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Heenan took grave exception to a comment Marler made about his mother at a set-piece and the Test-level prop was cited for conduct prejudicial to the game. Marler apologised to Heenan on Twitter after the match and was also ordered to give a presentation to a local club or school, and to a Premiership academy, on the game’s core values.

With Marler since overlooked by Steve Borthwick’s England for the Guinness Six Nations, he has been ticking along with the London club and was in their starting line-up for last weekend’s Gallagher Premiership win over Exeter at The Stoop.

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Quins now visit Bristol on Sunday, nearly 11 weeks after Marler landed himself in bother for his sledging of Heenan, but Bears’ DoR Lam doesn’t expect any sequel following what happened in the post-Christmas game.

“No, not at all. It was all done and dusted really quickly,” said Lam when asked about what took place a few months ago. “Joe apologised, realised he didn’t need to do it [say what he said on the pitch]. Jake accepted it, so it was pretty much done and dusted, over within 24, 48 hours, all done.

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“That’s old school, the way I love it. You go full-on at each other, and we have even been having it in here. We have seen a few scraps in training and then they are all hugging each other after and just get on with it. It’s good to see a bit of old school values really.”

So it will be a cordial embrace then for Marler? “One hundred percent, he is good man Joe. We have got a lot of time for him.”

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At the time of the disciplinary hearing, panel chair Gareth Graham said: “The player accepted that his conduct was prejudicial to the interests of the game. Rugby’s core values are not empty words or slogans which can be signed up to and then ignored. They are integral to the game.

“The insulting and offensive comments made by the player were wholly inappropriate; such comments should form no part of the modern game.”

Does Lam reckon the sledging incident was a one-off or something more prevalent in the English game? “Not really, that was sort of a one-off. It’s more one of the things they are trying to crack down on is making sure that you’re not (over) celebrating,” he explained.

“It’s fine to celebrate what you have done, it just crosses the barrier of the sporting spirit of the game when you are goading the opposition. They have cracked down on that stuff, you don’t need that. I’m one per cent behind guys celebrating big moments for what they have achieved, but not at the expense of your opponent, the opposition.

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“You have already done that by winning the moment so celebrate your moment, well done, and allow the other team to have the opportunity to come back in a sportsmanlike manner.”

Was sledging an issue back in Lam’s own playing days with Samoa and around the Premiership with Newcastle and Northampton? “No. If there was it was only funny stuff. You always hear, ‘C’mon old man, get up’, stuff like that.

“It was never abusive and if you knew each other, there would be a bit of banter. I’d call it more banter than sledging. And remember in our days we didn’t even celebrate scoring tries. You’d score a try, get up, get back and get ready for your next job. Things have changed a lot.”

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Flankly 3 hours ago
Resilient Irish will test Springboks despite provincial setbacks

The Bok kryptonite is complacency. How did they lose to Japan in 2015, or to Italy in 2016? There are plenty of less dramatic examples. They often boil down to the Boks dialing back their focus and intensity, presuming they can win with less than 100% commitment. This can be true of most teams, but there is a reason that the Boks are prone to it. It boils down to the Bok game plan being predicated on intensity. The game plan works because of the relentless and suffocating pressure that they apply. They don’t allow the opponent to control the game, and they pounce on any mistake. It works fantastically, but it is extremely demanding on the Bok players to pull it off. And the problem is that it stops working if you execute at anything less than full throttle. Complacency kills the Boks because it can lead to them playing at 97% and getting embarrassed. So the Bulls/Leinster result is dangerous. It’s exactly what is needed to introduce that hint of over-confidence. Rassie needs to remind the team of the RWC pool game, and of the fact that Ireland have won 8 of the 12 games between the teams in the last 20 years. And of course the Leinster result also means that Ireland have a point to prove. Comments like “a club team beating a test team” will be pasted on the changing room walls. They will be out to prove that the result of the RWC game truly reflects the pecking order between the teams. The Boks can win these games, but, as always, they need to avoid the kryptonite.

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