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Rugby | Six Nations

Dylan Hartley © Gallo Images

Hartley given eight-week ban



England hooker Dylan Hartley was banned for eight weeks on Tuesday after being found guilty of biting.

But although the length of the ban means the Northampton forward will miss the rest of the domestic season, he will be available for England's three-test tour of South Africa in June.

Hartley was cited for biting the finger of Ireland's Stephen Ferris during England's 30-9 Six Nations win at Twickenham on March 17 and a disciplinary panel found he had contravened International Rugby Board Law 10.4(m) "acts contrary to good sportsmanship".

The panel heard evidence from back-row forward Ferris, via video link, as well as Northampton director of rugby Jim Mallinder and England forwards coach Graham Rowntree.

In upholding the citing for foul play, the panel, chaired by Roger Morris of Wales, decided the offence merited a low entry point in the IRB's table of sanctions and allowed mitigation of four weeks.

A biting offence carries a low-end entry point of a 12-week suspension, with 18 weeks for mid-range and 24-plus weeks at the top end.

New Zealand-born Hartley, 25, is free to play again on May 14 and he has the right of appeal.

Ferris was heard accusing an England player of biting during the match.

Biting is a red card offence but as neither Welsh referee Nigel Owens nor his touch judges saw the incident, no action was taken during the game.

Owens, in a conversation recorded on his microphone in the 28th minute, told England captain Chris Robshaw and Ireland skipper Rory Best: "I have an accusation of biting, a clear mark on the finger.

"I did not see something... It could be dealt with afterwards."

Owens then approached Ferris, while the back-row forward was receiving treatment from Ireland's physiotherapist, and said: "I have done all I can. It has been noted. If I don't see it I can't do nothing about it."

There had been speculation the 39-times capped Hartley could be sidelined for a lot longer than two months, given his 26-week ban for gouging in 2007.

Back then he was punished for making contact with the eye areas of Wasps duo Jonny O'Connor and James Haskell during an English Premiership match.

However, it is believed that given the gap between the gouging incidents and this offence, the panel saw no need to link the two in any way.

England play the first of three tests against the Springboks in Durban on June 9.

Victory over Ireland saw England finish second in the Six Nations, an encouraging result under interim coach Stuart Lancaster, with the Irish in third place.

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