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Jake Heenan was unhappy with what was allegedly said to him by Joe Marler.
New Zealand flanker Jake Heenan has found himself the victim of a major verbal abuse controversy in English rugby.
Heenan, who plays for the Bristol Bears, was baited by English prop Joe Marler as the Bears hung on to beat Harlequins 15-12 in the English Premiership.
Marler allegedly made derogatory comments about Heenan’s mother that drew an instant reaction from the Kiwi as a scrum was packing down. It sparked a brawl amongst the forwards.
Marler has subsequently apologised as the issue went public and Bristol’s Kiwi skipper Steven Luatua suggested Marler should front on it.
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“Surely @HeenanJake deserves an apology. Fair? Merry Christmas.” Luatua tweeted after the game.
Marler later replied: “Yep. You’re right. I’m sorry @HeenanJake – piss poor from me. Owe you a pint/coffee in the new year.”
The Times suggested Marler had subsequently contacted Heenan and personally apologised.
Bristol’s Kiwi director of rugby Pat Lam felt Heenan’s uncharacteristic reaction was telling.
“I brought Jake over from New Zealand to Connacht and to Bristol. He’s like a son to our family and I have never seen him like that,” Lam, the former Auckland and Blues coach, said after the match.
“It’s best to say one of the areas we are all trying to work on is the spirit of the game. I love Joe Marler, but something was said and there was a reaction from Jake I have never seen before.
“We are all custodians of the game – players, coaches – and one thing we all value and we all work hard to keep is the right values and spirit. Jake reacted to something that was said. That’s all I know what happened.”
Referee, Karl Dickson penalized Heenan, 30, for his reaction.
Audio from Dickson’s microphone revealed Heenan telling the referee: “Karl, Karl, my mum is in hospital.”
The referee could be heard saying: “I know there was an allegation of what was said, I actually didn’t hear what was said but if it’s really clear on the comms after it will be dealt with.
“Unfortunately I can’t allow what happened straight after to occur, so it’s going to be a penalty against seven [Heenan] for what you did after. I didn’t hear what was said but if it’s offensive it will be picked up after and dealt with but I can’t do anything, as I didn’t hear it.”
He then said to Luatua: “I agree, it wasn’t in the spirit of the game.”
Heenan, born in Whangārei, is a former New Zealand under-20s captain who left for Ireland in 2013 and played 75 games for Connacht. He followed Lam to Bristol in 2018 and has been a stalwart there.
It’s likely Marler, who has a history of baiting opponents, will be cited for his words as audio from other microphones became available.
Marler, 32, was banned for two matches in 2016 for calling Wales prop Samson Lee “gypsy boy” in a Six Nations match. In 2020 he was suspended for 10 weeks when he grabbed Alun Wyn Jones by the testicles in another England v Wales Six Nations game.
After the match, former All Black Tabai Matson, the Harlequins coach, said of Marler: “He does tease people. I don’t know what was said but he’s quite antagonistic. He’s hard to play against and I thought Dicko [the referee] handled it well.”