Eight week ban for Hartley

Northampton Saints' Dylan Hartley tries to encourage his team as they loose to Munster during the Heineken Cup Pool One match at Franklins Gardens, Northampton. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday January 21, 2012. See PA story RUGBYU Northampton. Photo credit should read: David Jones/PA Wire

Northampton Saints' Dylan Hartley tries to encourage his team as they loose to Munster during the Heineken Cup Pool One match at Franklins Gardens, Northampton. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday January 21, 2012. See PA story RUGBYU Northampton. Photo credit should read: David Jones/PA Wire

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Northampton Saints captain Dylan Hartley has been banned for eight weeks.

It means he will miss a vital period for his club during the season’s run-in but will be available for England’s summer tour to South Africa.

Hartley was cited for biting the finger of flanker Stephen Ferris during the 30-9 RBS 6 Nations victory over Ireland on March 17.

The Six Nations hearing upheld the citing and issued a ban that will force him to miss the remainder of Northampton’s season but enable him to play in the first Test against the Springboks on June 9.

The offence was found to have contravened IRB Law 10.4 (m) “acts contrary to good sportsmanship”.

The independent Six Nations committee examined the evidence and listened to Hartley, his legal representative, Northampton director of rugby Jim Mallinder, England forwards coach Graham Rowntree and Ferris via a video link.

It was decided that the offence merited a low entry point in the IRB’s table of sanctions and allowed mitigation of four weeks.

The 26-year-old can resume playing from May 14 and will only play for Saints again this season if they reach the Aviva Premiership final 12 days later.

Hartley said: “I am disappointed by the result and I will wait for the written judgment as to how the panel came to their conclusion. I now have to put it behind me and focus on supporting Saints in training and off the field.”

England forwards coach Graham Rowntree, who attended the hearing to support Hartley, said: “It is unfortunate for Dylan and Northampton, especially as he was in good form during the Six Nations, and he has developed as a player and a leader. However, we are looking forward to him being available for the tour to South Africa.”

Saints director of rugby Jim Mallinder added: “We are disappointed that Dylan has been suspended, especially at a crucial part of the season.”