England captain Dylan Hartley will be available for the entire RBS 6 Nations campaign after being given a six-week ban for striking Leinster’s Sean O’Brien.
Hartley appeared before an independent disciplinary hearing in London to be sanctioned for the third red card of his career, received in Northampton’s Champions Cup defeat by Leinster on Friday.
The length of the suspension means he is free to play from January 23, enabling him to lead England when they open their Six Nations defence against France at Twickenham on February 4.
Hartley had only been on the pitch for six minutes as a second-half replacement when he struck O’Brien with a swinging right arm from behind, resulting in the Ireland flanker failing a head injury assessment.
The thee-man hearing upheld the decision of referee Jerome Garces to issue a red card and found that the offence was at the mid-range of World Rugby’s sanctions, selecting a five-week suspension for the offence.
Two weeks were added due to Hartley’s poor disciplinary record before it was reduced by one week because of his guilty plea.
Before this latest red card, Hartley had amassed 54 weeks work of suspensions for offences including biting, gouging and butting and the total for his chequered career now stands at 60 weeks.
It is the best possible outcome England could have wished for, realising a substantial lay-off was certain but now able to plan for the Six Nations knowing the skipper for all 13 victories this year will be at the helm right from the start.
The Rugby Football Union outlined its position on Tuesday, stating that Hartley had the full backing of Twickenham and head coach Eddie Jones regardless of the outcome of the hearing.
“I think Dylan’s got credit in the bank,” RFU chief executive Ian Ritchie said. “I think most people would say it’s been a fantastic year. We’ve had 13 wins out of 13 and Dylan has made a huge contribution and he should be allowed to continue that.”
Dylan Hartley’s six-week ban means he will be available for England’s entire RBS 6 Nations campaign, but he will miss another large chunk of Northampton’s season.
He will be sidelined for fixtures against:
Leinster, December 17, Champions Cup, Aviva Stadium
Sale, December 23, Aviva Premiership, Franklin’s Gardens
Gloucester, January 1, Aviva Premiership, Kingsholm
Bristol, January 7, Aviva Premiership, Franklin’s Gardens
Castres, January 13/14/15, Champions Cup, Franklin’s Gardens
Montpellier, January 20/21/22, Champions Cup, Altrad Stadium
www.espn.co.uk – RUGBY