Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Rugby

Hartley handed reprieve

Dylan Hartley can start the planning in earnest for a 2015 including the RBS 6 Nations and Rugby World Cup after receiving a Test career reprieve.

The Northampton hooker's three-week ban for the elbow to Leicester centre Matt Smith's face that brought a red card will not impinge on his England ambitions.

Hartley pleaded guilty in a disciplinary hearing on Tuesday night, to the charge of striking Smith in Northampton's 23-19 weekend victory over Leicester.

A ban of six weeks or more would have jeopardised Hartley's very Test future in light of his prior disciplinary rap sheet including eye-gouging, biting, punching and swearing.

The 28-year-old has added elbowing to an extensive list that now totals 50 weeks of career suspensions, but is still expected to continue in England colours.

Hartley will be free to play on January 12, just in time to prove his readiness for the Six Nations in two European Champions Cup encounters with Northampton.

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.

"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.

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 sanction followed in March 2012 after he was found to have bitten Ireland flanker Stephen Ferris' finger, before 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, but is now ready to shrug off his latest disciplinary aberration.


From Belfast Telegraph