Dylan Hartley’s suitability to lead the British and Irish Lions has been questioned by Brian O’Driscoll as the England captain waits to discover the damage caused to his career by yet another major disciplinary lapse.
Hartley will learn in midweek the repercussions of the red card issued by referee Jerome Garces for a swinging arm on Sean O’Brien in Northampton’s Champions Cup defeat by Leinster at Franklin’s Gardens on Friday night.
The hooker, a second-half replacement, had only been on the pitch for six minutes when he struck O’Brien’s head from behind with his right arm, ending the concussed Ireland flanker’s evening.
It is the third red card of his career and Garces’ decision was endorsed by Northampton director of rugby Jim Mallinder and captain Tom Wood.
An appalling disciplinary record comprising of 54 weeks worth of suspensions for offences including biting, gouging and butting guarantees a bleak outcome when a independent hearing is convened next week – most likely on Wednesday – to impose a sanction.
His participation in the early stages of the RBS 6 Nations is now in grave doubt and O’Driscoll suggests his credentials to lead the Lions in New Zealand next summer – Hartley was a leading contender for the post – are in ruins.
“Mindless from Hartley. Lions Captain???!” tweeted O’Driscoll, who skippered the tourists against the All Blacks 11 years ago.
“Anyone actually questioning the Hartley red card look at his reaction to it. Not a murmur of complaint from him. He knew what was coming.”
Hartley has led England with distinction this year, presiding over an unblemished run of 13 victories, but a season marred by a lengthy lay-off to heal a back injury now faces another interruption.
It is unclear at this stage whether he will be punished for striking or for a dangerous tackle, with the former deemed a less serious offence but still carrying a top end sanction of eight plus weeks.
The suspension will surely be extended when his extensive previous misdemeanours are considered and will be delivered against the backdrop of World Rugby’s crackdown on dangerous play involving the head and neck.
England head coach Eddie Jones, watching from the stands at Franklin’s Gardens, reacted to the replays by running his left hand down his face and the red card has left him with a headache ahead of the visit of France to Twickenham on February 4.
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