Hartley handed three-week ban
Dylan Hartley has been handed an RBS 6 Nations reprieve after receiving a three-week ban for his red card for elbowing Leicester centre Matt Smith.
The England hooker pleaded guilty to the charge of striking in a disciplinary hearing held via conference call on Tuesday evening.
A ban of six weeks or more would have jeopardised both Hartley's Six Nations chances and his future Test career in light of a previous disciplinary rap sheet including eye-gouging, biting, punching and swearing.
Hartley was sent off after just 17 minutes of Northampton's eventual 23-19 victory over Leicester at Franklin's Gardens on Saturday.
Referee JP Doyle was prepared to award a yellow card until Television Match Official (TMO) Sean Davey urged the review of further replays, prompting the hooker's dismissal.
The 61-cap front-rower pleaded guilty in Tuesday's RFU hearing, with sole judicial officer Jeremy Summers suggesting Hartley's previous poor disciplinary record contributed to the length of his ban.
Hartley's latest ban will take his total of career suspensions to 50 weeks.
"The sanction reflects the low end entry point of the offence, which carries a two-week tariff," said Summers in an RFU statement.
"The entry point was aggravated having regard to Dylan's previous record and a week was taken off to reflect mitigating circumstances.
"As such the sanction reflects the player's record rather than the seriousness of the offence itself."
England head coach Stuart Lancaster had vowed Hartley was in the "last-chance saloon" after his red card for swearing at referee Wayne Barnes during the 2013 Aviva Premiership final.
That dismissal led to an 11-week suspension that cost Hartley his place on the summer's British and Irish Lions tour to Australia.
Lancaster was also said to be furious with Hartley for conceding a cheap yellow card in the autumn Test defeat to South Africa.
Any heavy sanction following Saturday's red card in the Premiership East Midlands derby clash with Leicester would have put Hartley's long-term England career at serious risk.
The decision by Summers to impose a three-week ban alleviates some of the scrutiny on Hartley however, and paves the way for the hooker to ease back into the Test arena once more.
Hartley's catalogue of shame began with a 26-week ban in April 2007 for gouging the eyes of Wasps forwards James Haskell and Jonny O'Connor.
An eight-week ban followed in March 2012 after he was found to have bitten Ireland flanker Stephen Ferris' finger, before receiving a two-week penalty in December of the same year for punching Ulster's Rory Best.
Hartley's disciplinary shortcomings reached a personal nadir in May 2013 when swearing at referee Wayne Barnes during Northampton's Aviva Premiership final defeat to Leicester.
That cost the New Zealand-born hooker a red card and his place on the British and Irish Lions tour as he was subsequently hit with an 11-week ban.
The 28-year-old viewed Northampton's 24-20 triumph in this year's Premiership final as considerable personal redemption: now though, he has more fences to mend.
Hartley recently rejected a big-money contract offer from Montpellier to sign a three-year deal with Northampton that will keep him at Franklin's Gardens until 2018.