England prop Joe Marler has been described as "not in any way, shape or form racist" just hours after being was told he will face an independent misconduct hearing for verbally abusing Samson Lee.
Marler had initially escaped punishment from the RBS 6 Nations for calling the Wales prop a ''gypsy boy'' during England's 25-21 victory at Twickenham, but World Rugby has deemed action should have been taken.
Marler apologised to Lee for the insult at half-time and was subsequently reprimanded by England head coach Eddie Jones, but the decision not to sanction him was met by an outcry.
But Conor O'Shea, Marler's club coach at Harlequins, has leant his support to the under-fire forward.
"He is not in any way, shape or form racist," O'Shea said. "He is an edgy person, he made a mistake, and he apologised.
"Does he know that he has got a responsibility? Of course he does. Do we accept it? Of course we don't, but some of the vitriol that has been directed to him is tough for a 25-year old to take and he has to take it on the chin.
"I am not going to talk about political correctness, I am not going to talk about banter. He knows he shouldn't have said it. He apologised at half-time, he knew it was wrong.
"I had a good sit-down with him (on Tuesday). You couldn't get anything further from a bloke that is racist going."
O'Shea added; "Joe Marler is a bloody great bloke and I made him captain here for a reason. He is actually in great form because he knows that the people who know him, know how things are and the two players involved have gone 'it's done'."
Six Nations ruled no action against Marler, but World Rugby stepped in and if he is found guilty at the independent hearing he could still face a suspension.
A statement from the governing body read: ''World Rugby has confirmed that England's Joe Marler will face an independent World Rugby misconduct hearing for comments made towards Wales' Samson Lee during the RBS 6 Nations match at Twickenham on March 12.
''World Rugby is of the view that the comments amount to misconduct and/or a breach of the code of conduct under World Rugby Regulation 20 and should have been considered by an independent process.
''In the absence of such a process by Six Nations Rugby, World Rugby is exercising its right to take appropriate action before an independent judicial committee.
''The RFU (the player's union) and Six Nations Rugby have been informed and the case will be heard by an independent judicial committee as soon as practically possible. Details will be announced in due course and the player is free to continue playing in the interim.''
The Welsh Rugby Union released a statement saying: ''We stand by our belief that there is no place for the use of racist language in sport.''
Verbal abuse of a player based on religion, race, colour, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation or otherwise carries an entry-point sanction of four weeks.