London - Defending Six Nations champions England will be
without prop Joe Marler for at least the opening two matches of the tournament
after he was banned for six weeks on Tuesday.
The 27-year-old - whose career has been bedevilled by
disciplinary issues - was handed the suspension by an independent Rugby
Football Union (RFU) disciplinary panel after being sent off at the weekend in
his club Harlequins' 30-29 Premiership defeat by Sale.
Marler will definitely miss the games against Italy on
February 4 in Rome and against Wales at Twickenham a week later - the ban ends
just four days before their third match against Scotland at Murrayfield.
"Joe Marler of Harlequins appeared before an
independent disciplinary panel this evening after receiving a red card from
referee Matt Carley during Saturday's Premiership match against Sale
Sharks," read the RFU statement.
"He was sent off in the 58th minute for striking with
the shoulder and making contact with Sale Sharks' TJ Ioane.
"Marler pleaded guilty to the charge and was suspended
for a period of six weeks.
"He is available to play again on 20 February
Ioane received a two-week suspension for striking Marler
with his arm. The Samoan flank admitted to the charge and will miss Sale's two
upcoming European Challenge Cup matches.