England hooker Dylan Hartley will find out today whether he faces the second major suspension of his professional career after being cited for allegedly biting an opponent.
The 26-year-old Northampton captain, who has won 39 caps for his country, faces a disciplinary hearing after being accused of biting the finger of Ireland flanker Stephen Ferris during England’s 30-9 RBS Six Nations victory on 17 March.
The offence carries a low-end entry point of a 12-week suspension, which would put Hartley’s participation in England’s summer tour in doubt. The mid-range punishment for biting is 18 weeks while there is a ban of 24-plus weeks at the top end in the International Rugby Board’s disciplinary sanctions table.
The maximum sanction is a four-year punishment.
Hartley, who was born in New Zealand but qualifies through his English-born mother, served a 26-week ban for gouging in 2007 after being cited for making contact with the eye areas of Wasps players Jonny O’Connor, James Haskell and Joe Worsley during a Premiership fixture.
Hartley pleaded not guilty on all three counts, but a Rugby Football Union disciplinary panel found him guilty in relation to the offences against Haskell and O’Connor, but he was cleared on the Worsley charge. The incident with Ferris occurred during the 28th minute of England’s comfortable Twickenham win, which saw them secure second place in the Six Nations table after an encouraging campaign under interim coach Stuart Lancaster.
Television footage did not capture the alleged incident but Ferris and some of his team-mates complained to Welsh referee Nigel Owens in the immediate aftermath. Owens said he had not seen anything but told captains Chris Robshaw and Rory Best “it could be dealt with afterwards. If it is seen it will be dealt with.”
The charge of an act “contrary to good sportsmanship” against Hartley was brought by Italian citing commissioner Alberto Recaldini after reviewing footage. But Recaldini incorrectly documented that the incident took place in the 23rd minute, when it was in the 28th minute.
It is understood Recaldini has acknowledged the mistake in his report. The chances of Hartley’s legal team successfully using the mistake as a loophole have reduced following an incident on England’s tour to Australia in 2010. On that occasion lock Dave Attwood was cited for alleged stamping against the Australian Barbarians, but was cleared without a hearing as the citing commissioner was Australian, and deemed to not be independent. A clause is now in place under the IRB’s regulation 17 that allows the disciplinary committee chairman to note an inaccuracy, but to still proceed.