The British Irish Lions and Harlequins have both strongly condemned comments made by former Ireland international Neil Francis regarding out-half Marcus Smith.

Francis, appearing on Independent.ie's The Left Wing podcast, had been discussing Smith's potential involvement in the upcoming Tests against South Africa.

Mediahuis Ireland, publisher of Independent.ie, today announced his dismissal, with Francis issuing an apology for the remarks.

In a statement released on Friday evening, the Premiership club said: "Harlequins is disgusted by racist comments made by Independent.ie columnist Neil Francis on the publication's rugby podcast, The Left Wing, on July 14 about Harlequins, England, and British and Irish Lions fly-half Marcus Smith.

"The club firmly believes that there is no room for racism in any part of society, let alone professional sport. Harlequins await a written reply from The Independent.ie regarding this matter."

A Lions spokesperson said: "We find the remarks offensive and have written to the Independent to express our deep dissatisfaction."

Marcus Smith during Lions training

Later, a spokesperson for Mediahuis Ireland confirmed his dismissal: "Neil Francis's remarks were unacceptable and he has apologised for them.

"The comments were initially released in the podcast last week but were subsequently removed by our production team a short time later. This should have happened before it was released and we apologise for the error.

"We acknowledge that Mr Francis says his comments were inadvertent but we have decided to end our relationship with him and he will no longer write columns or contribute to our podcasts."

Francis himself said the "comments have been interpreted differently from what I intended".

""During a podcast for The Left Wing recorded on Wednesday the 14th of July I made comments about the Harlequins and England out-half Marcus Smith where I stated that he had 'a David Beckham hair style and an Oompa Loompa tan'.

"Marcus Smith is of English/ Filipino heritage and some of the media comments at the moment have made mention that I have racially abused the player.

"I would never intentionally or wilfully make a comment to disparage somebody on the basis of the colour of anyone's skin. Never! The comments have been interpreted differently from what I intended and I apologise sincerely for that.

"I fully apologise for any offence taken by the player and his family. I intend to apologise directly to him shortly if he is agreeable. I also apologise to anyone who also took offence to what I said."