Northampton accept Hartley’s fate

Northampton Saints have withdrawn their appeal against Dylan Hartley’s 26-week ban for eye-gouging.

A three-man Rugby Football Union (RFU) disciplinary panel found the hooker guilty of “illegally making contact with the eye or eye areas” of Wasps loose forwards James Haskell and Jonny O’Connor during Northampton’s 35-29 Guinness Premiership defeat at Adams Park on April 15.

The Saints had said they would “look at every option available” to spare Hartley such a lengthy ban.

The club’s case was due to be heard in London on Thursday, but the Saints, who were relegated at the weekend, have now decided against the appeal.

Hartley will now be sidelined for six months while his side adjusts to life in National League One.

As well as domestic matches, he will sit out England’s tour of South Africa in May and June, three Rugby World Cup warm-up games during August and the Webb Ellis Trophy defence during September and October.

Although uncapped, the New Zealand-born 21-year-old was tipped to put pre-Rugby World Cup pressure on rival England hookers George Chuter and Lee Mears.

But he is now reeling from what is thought to be the longest suspension dished out to a top-flight England player since Bath prop Kevin Yates was found guilty of ear-biting in 1998.

RFU disciplinary officer Jeff Blackett, who chaired Hartley’s original hearing, said: “Contact with an opponent’s eyes is a serious offence because of the vulnerability of the area and risk of permanent injury.

“It is often the result of an insidious act and is one of the most abhorred by rugby players.

“Serious offences such as these – colloquially known as gouging – carry substantial punishment to protect players, deter others and remove culprits from the game to ensure they learn the appropriate lesson.

“The offence against Haskell was at the top end entry point which carries a sanction of between 24 weeks and three years.

“We believe the appropriate entry point for this was 30 weeks, which we reduced to 26 after taking into account his good character, youth and inexperience.

“We upheld the citing for the offence against O’Connor, but adjudged that no further penalty was necessary.”


365 Digital

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