Hartley in trouble again after red


Published: Saturday 20th December 2014 by The News Editor

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Northampton captain Dylan Hartley could miss at least the start of England’s RBS 6 Nations campaign after he was sent off for elbowing an opponent in the face at Franklin’s Gardens.

The controversial hooker’s career has been scarred by repeated disciplinary episodes, including a 26-week ban for eye-gouging in 2007 and an 11-week suspension for verbally abusing referee Wayne Barnes during the 2013 Aviva Premiership final against Leicester.

That latter ban led to him missing the British and Irish Lions tour of Australia, and Rugby Football Union disciplinary chiefs could easily take a dim view of his latest indiscretion.

It happened after just 17 minutes of a titanic east midlands derby that 14-man Northampton won 23-19 thanks to substitute Jamie Elliott’s 77th-minute try that fly-half Stephen Myler converted from the touchline.

Saints had earlier delivered tries for prop Alex Waller and replacement Ben Foden, plus two Myler penalties, with the lead changing hands five times during a pulsating second period.

Wing Vereniki Goneva claimed two touchdowns for Tigers, which followed an early penalty try, while Owen Williams and Freddie Burns each kicked a conversion.

Referee J P Doyle seemed happy to award a yellow card when Hartley’s elbow caught Tigers centre Matt Smith in the face.

As Smith fell to the ground, a brawl broke out involving several players, but television match official Sean Davey urged Doyle to watch further replays, and he responded by sending 61 times-capped Hartley off.

England open their Six Nations campaign against Wales in Cardiff on February 6, and given 28-year-old Hartley’s poor record – biting and punching offences also appear on his charge-sheet – another lengthy suspension appears likely, with a disciplinary hearing set to be convened before Christmas.

And the only current consolation for Hartley is that Saints will lead the Premiership going into the festive period after they showed immense character to keep Tigers out.

England centre Luther Burrell returned to Northampton’s starting line-up, while two changes up-front following last Saturday’s 67-0 European Champions Cup stroll against Italians Treviso saw starts for locks Christian Day and number eight Samu Manoa.

Leicester, meanwhile, showed four changes – all in the pack – following their defeat against European champions Toulon seven days ago, with hooker Tom Youngs, lock Graham Kitchener, flanker Tom Croft and number eight Jordan Crane all featuring, and prop Marcos Ayerza made his 200th Tigers first team appearance.

The initial flurries were fast and furious, but Leicester held their own in set-pieces and open play, with skipper Ben Youngs kicking cleverly to put his team in the right areas as England coaches Andy Farrell and Graham Rowntree looked on.

But it quickly became a nightmare for the red rose hierarchy as Hartley was red-carded, before Leicester rammed home their dominance with a penalty try that Williams converted.

Hartley’s exit sent shock-waves reverberating around the ground, and Saints forwards coach Dorian West appeared particularly animated as he spoke with the fourth official after Hartley had trudged dejectedly off.

Northampton, though, did not lose their poise in such circumstances, and two Myler penalties – the second after Croft was sin-binned for a high tackle on Saints wing Ken Pisi – brought the home side back to 7-6 behind by half-time.

And with Croft still off, Saints went ahead for the first time after cleverly recycling possession, and Waller, who scored a dramatic late try to secure Premiership title glory for Northampton at Saracens’ expense seven months ago, touched down.

Full-back James Wilson missed the conversion attempt – Myler was off receiving treatment after being hit by a high Smith tackle – but Northampton had put down a marker, despite being one man short.

Leicester took a time to weather the storm, yet they hit back after 61 minutes when replacement fly-half Burns, who took over from Smith as Williams moved out one position, made a sharp break before Goneva touched down under little pressure.

Williams could not add the conversion, but Tigers took a 12-11 advantage that lasted just four minutes as Myler’s brilliant pass highlighted a slick handling move that was finished off by Foden.

Back came Leicester, though, through Goneva’s second try that was sparked by his fellow wing Miles Benjamin’s burst, yet Saints were not to be denied and Elliott administered the finishing touch of a scintillating contest.

Published: Saturday 20th December 2014 by The News Editor

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