17 Mar 2016

Gatland apologises over banter remarks

6:44 am on 17 March 2016

Wales coach Warren Gatland has apologised for describing England loosehead prop Joe Marler's "gypsy boy" barb about Wales prop Samson Lee as banter after being accused by a campaigner of being a "very poor ambassador for Welsh rugby".

Wales rugby coach Warren Gatland.

Wales rugby coach Warren Gatland. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The Six Nations disciplinary authorities are still deciding whether to lodge a formal complaint against Marler after he called Lee a "gypsy boy" during England's 25-21 win over the Welsh at Twickenham on Saturday.

Marler, who was also cited for allegedly striking Wales prop Rob Evans during the match, apologised to Lee at halftime but his remark was picked up by referee Craig Joubert's microphone.

Gatland told British media earlier on Wednesday that the matter should be put to bed but his description of the incident as "a bit of banter" drew criticism from British Labour Party politician and former MP Julie Morgan and Shay Clipson, founder of the national alliance of gypsy, traveller and Roma women.

"We certainly don't want this sort of thing to be deemed as acceptable because any form of racial abuse, which is what this is, can't really be considered as just banter because it's not," Morgan told BBC Wales.

Traveller community campaigner Clipson called on New Zealander Gatland to apologise and retract his statement.

"Warren Gatland is a very, very poor ambassador for Welsh rugby," she said. "The Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) need to train him. He needs diversity training and he really needs to be quiet until he knows what he's talking about."

The WRU released a statement in response to the criticism, with the coach apologising for any offence he had caused.

"I don't condone racism of any kind," Gatland said.

"My intention was to take the focus away from Samson, a private individual, and enable him and the rest of squad to prepare for the final game of the championship."

Gatland, whose team host Italy on Saturday, added that he had consulted Lee before commenting on the issue and the player's own statement on the matter backed his coach.

"I stand beside Warren," Lee said. "I personally believe the comments to have been intended as banter and accepted Joe's apology on Saturday.

"Warren is fiercely protective of the team and his comments were made based on conversations with me and with the intention of deflecting attention away from me."

The WRU also backed Gatland and said it would welcome a "definitive and speedy conclusion" to the investigation by the Six Nations.