Banned Hartley free for England tour
Dylan Hartley will be available for England's summer tour to South Africa after a disciplinary hearing suspended him for eight weeks.
Hartley was cited for biting the finger of flanker Stephen Ferris during the 30-9 RBS 6 Nations victory over Ireland on March 17.
The Six Nations hearing upheld the citing and issued a ban that will force him to miss the remainder of Northampton's season but enable him to play in the first Test against the Springboks on June 9. The offence was found to have contravened IRB Law 10.4 (m) "acts contrary to good sportsmanship".
The independent Six Nations committee examined the evidence and listened to Hartley, his legal representative, Northampton director of rugby Jim Mallinder, England forwards coach Graham Rowntree and Ferris via a video link.
It was decided that the offence merited a low entry point in the IRB's table of sanctions and allowed mitigation of four weeks. The 26-year-old can resume playing from May 14 and will only play for Saints again this season if they reach the Aviva Premiership final 12 days later.
Biting carries a low-end entry point of a 12-week suspension, while the mid-range punishment is 18 weeks and there is a ban of 24-plus weeks at the top end. The maximum sanction is a four-year punishment.
It had been speculated that Hartley could be facing a lengthy spell on the sidelines having served a 26-week ban for gouging in 2007. On that occasion he was punished for making contact with the eye areas of Wasps duo Jonny O'Connor and James Haskell during a Premiership fixture.
However, it is understood that given the length of time that has passed since the gouging incidents, it was felt the four-week reduction was appropriate.
The incident with Ferris occurred during the 28th minute of England's comfortable win at Twickenham, which saw them secure second place in the Six Nations table after an encouraging campaign under interim coach Stuart Lancaster.
Television footage did not capture the bite, but Ferris and some of his team-mates complained to Welsh referee Nigel Owens in the immediate aftermath.