Joe Marler
Joe Marler could face a ban for his "gypsy boy" slur aimed at Wales prop Samson Lee during the Six NationsGetty

The Rugby Players' Association (RPA) have launched an impassioned defence of Joe Marler, insisting that he is being hung out to dry in what the organisation's founder and chief executive Damian Hopley has labelled as an "excruciating media witch hunt". Such a sensational statement comes after the Harlequins loose-head prop's World Rugby misconduct hearing was set for Tuesday 5 April.

Marler was heavily criticised after calling Samson Lee a "gypsy boy" during the first half of the 25-21 victory over Wales in March and was quickly reminded of his responsibilities as an international player by head coach Eddie Jones. The 25-year-old delivered an unprompted apology during the half-time interval at Twickenham and later avoided punishment from Six Nations Rugby after they accepted that the comment had been made in the heat of the moment.

The ruling clearly did not satisfy Word Rugby, however, with the sport's governing body subsequently confirming that they had requested more information regarding the process that led to their controversial decision. Marler appeared as a second-half replacement during the Grand Slam decider against France in Paris and recently returned to Aviva Premiership action during Harlequins' 29-23 defeat to the Northampton Saints at Franklin's Gardens.

"Now that the World Rugby hearing date has finally been set, over three weeks since the matter was concluded by the Six Nations, it is important to place on the record how we have watched the events around this ongoing disciplinary process unfold in a state of disbelief," Hopley said in a fiery RPA media release.

"As people throughout the game know, Joe is no racist. He made a comment when provoked and is now being hung out to dry in this excruciating media witch hunt whilst World Rugby have intervened against the RFU and the Six Nations.

"To put Joe in this position after he apologised to the opposition player, admitted his error of judgement and also received a severe rebuke from the RFU and the Tournament smacks of double jeopardy. Everyone recognises there is no place in the game for these provocations but let's be absolutely clear, Joe is not racially motivated and this matter should have been closed when it was originally dealt with three weeks ago.

"We will be watching the ensuing process extremely carefully but the thought of World Rugby calling for yet another hearing and therefore prolonging this episode defies belief. The apology was accepted, Joe held his hand up and it is now time to draw a line and move on."