England's Dylan Hartley's ban sees Six Nations door left open
Dylan Hartley has been handed an RBS Six 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 yesterday 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 last 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 yesterday'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 "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 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.