RUNGIS – France coach Jacques Brunel on Tuesday defended centre Mathieu Bastareaud, who faces a hearing on Wednesday over homophobic insults and could be suspended for the Six Nations.
"I don't want to punish Mathieu Bastareaud. Now, I do not know what the authorities will do. We will see. I hope for his sake and for ours, that he isn't (banned)," Brunel said at a hotel near Paris where he was attending a meeting of French club rugby officials.
Television footage of Toulon's European Champions Cup victory over Treviso on Sunday appeared to show the France international calling Italian second row Sebastian Negri a "fucking faggot" seemingly in response to a similar insult by the Zimbabwean-born player after an altercation between the pair in the final minute of the match.
"I watched the match. They told me he said things but I did not hear them," said Brunel.
"There are things we can say on the spur of the moment without thinking."
But the veteran coach said that as "he has coloured skin" Bastareaud knows what it feels like to be stigmatised because he is different.
"I don't believe (because of this) that he could have acted in such a way," added Brunel.
Bastareaud, who has played 42 times for France, has a hearing on Wednesday in London with the disciplinary commission of European Professional Club Rugby, the organisers of the Champions Cup.
The 29-year-old quickly said sorry after the match.
"I apologise for my reaction to insults from the Italian player. I reacted badly by responding to his provocation, I'm truly sorry for the people I might have hurt," Bastareaud wrote on his Twitter account.
At the same time, former England back Andy Goode, who was commentating on the match, used Twitter to accuse Bastareaud of homophobia and urge European rugby to "throw the book at him".
If the disciplinary panel follows World Rugby's punishment directives, Bastareaud would face a minimum ban of six and more likely something in the region of 12 weeks.
Sounds like homophobic insults from both Negri and Bastareaud, started by Negri pic.twitter.com/1X9vU4ZZ2j— Michael Doyle (@CJPDoyle) January 14, 2018
Brunel plans to announce a squad of 31 players for the Six Nations at 2pm on Wednesday but he will not know the decision of the disciplinary panel, which is expected at about the same time.
"It's a problem because I cannot punish Mathieu Bastareaud" by dropping him just in case he is banned, said Brunel.
Meanwhile, Bastareaud's president at Toulon Mourad Boudjellal is also being investigated by EPCR over comments he made in an interview published on rugbyrama.fr on Sunday.
"What I'm worried about is the mormon side of the EPCR with its Welsh and Irish (administrators)," the outspoken and controversial comic book magnate told the rugby website.
"They're people who sell morality even though they don't possess any.
"The same who have ministers who get whipped in private but portray themselves as 'clean' in public."