Dylan Hartley will definitely miss England’s Rugby World Cup opener against Fiji after being hit with a four-week ban for headbutting Saracens hooker Jamie George.
Hartley was not punished for the incident, which occurred after Tom Wood’s 57th-minute try, during Saints’ 29-24 Aviva Premiership play-off semi-final defeat last Saturday, but was later cited.
He attended an RFU disciplinary hearing at Coventry’s Holiday Inn on Wednesday night and pleaded guilty to the charge of striking an opponent with his head.
His suspension will commence on August 15 and he will not be free to play again until September 21, three days after England begin their World Cup campaign at Twickenham.
Hartley, who was banned for three weeks earlier this season for elbowing Leicester’s Matt Smith in a derby game in December, will also miss England’s warm-up games.
HHJ Sean Enright, who chaired Hartley’s hearing alongside Mike Hamlin and Tony Wheat, said: “This offence falls within the low entry point for striking with the head.
“There was no significant injury to the other party, the opposition player was not removed from the field of play and the incident did not affect the game.
“However, there cannot be any place in our game for this class of behaviour, and that is why we have imposed this sanction.”