Dylan Hartley has been dropped from the England World Cup squad by head coach Stuart Lancaster.
The RFU released a statement confirming the decision this afternoon, with the Saints skipper paying a heavy price for his latest disciplinary issue.
Hartley was banned for four weeks for headbutting Saracens hooker Jamie George in last Saturday’s Aviva Premiership play-off semi-final at Franklin’s Gardens.
He was not punished for the incident, which occurred after Tom Wood’s 57th-minute try, at the time, but was later cited and forced to attend a disciplinary hearing.
He was subsequently banned from August 15 to September 21, meaning he would miss England’s World Cup warm-up matches and the tournament opener against Fiji on September 18.
Lancaster has decided it would be too big a risk to go with just two hookers in the week leading up to that game and has left Hartley out of the squad.
Ironically, the Saints star has been replaced by George, who will now take his place in the group.
Lancaster said: “We are obviously very disappointed with the situation that Dylan has put himself in and where that leaves us as a squad. I have spoken to him and he knows he has let himself and everyone down.
“If we selected him in the World Cup squad he would have played no competitive rugby at all and we would be left exposed with only two available hookers in what is a specialised position going into the Fiji game.
“All it would take is one injury (that is not tournament ending) during the week of the Fiji game and we would only have one fit hooker in the squad for our crucial opening game and this would leave us massively exposed.
“In addition, the regulations also clearly state that in our World Cup Squad we must have sufficient cover that is suitably trained and experienced in the front row in case of injury. This is clearly not the case if we begin the tournament with a suspended hooker and as such we have been left with no choice but to replace him.
“It also goes without saying that we need all our players to be able to control their discipline and make good decisions under pressure, the World Cup will clearly require this, and Dylan has not clearly displayed this in this latest incident. This is an area that he still needs to address.
“Dylan will be replaced by Jamie George in the World Cup squad and will not be considered until the suspension is served.”
“Jamie has obviously played well for Saracens this season and I’m sure will work extremely hard to take his opportunity.”