Eddie Jones will not come under any pressure from Twickenham to drop Dylan Hartley after the England captain last week received the third red card of his career, six minutes after coming on to the field as a replacement for Northampton against Leinster at Franklin’s Gardens.
Hartley faces a disciplinary panel in London on Wednesday, charged with striking Sean O’Brien who, after being treated on the field, was taken for a head injury assessment which he failed. The offence carries a minimum ban of two weeks, and can rise to eight or more depending on the level of premeditation determined by the three‑man panel.
England’s next match is on 4 February. If Hartley, who has one of the worst disciplinary records of any player in Britain, were to receive an eight-week ban, he would be free to play again on the day of the game. “Eddie will select his squad, his team and his captain based on who is eligible,” said Ian Ritchie, the Rugby Football Union chief executive. “He and I talk about matters on a regular basis, not just Dylan, but it is primarily a matter for him.
“Let us see what happens [on Wednesday] but we recognise what Dylan has done over the last 12 months. His disciplinary performance in an England shirt has been exemplary during those games. You weigh it in the perspective of what’s happened and his contribution to the team and squad in the last 12 months. His demeanour and all the things he has done mean that I think we should support Dylan.”
Asked whether he anticipated concern about image from England’s sponsors should Hartley continue as captain, he said: “No, I don’t think so. If you look at what the squad has done on and off the pitch during the last 12 months, and Dylan has been the leader of that, they have been tremendously good with sponsors, the community game and very giving of their time with charities.
“His leadership credentials are very strong and we should recognise the fact that Eddie’s judgment has been really good. The disciplinary process will take its course and we will see what happens.
“The hearing is independent and we will accept what they come up with. There is a continuous look at the tariffs and rules around tackling and what we do around that to make sure that we look at concussion seriously. I do not have an issue with any of that. It is right that there should be more severe penalties for areas around the head and the panel will do what they need to.”
The RFU is also monitoring the case of another Northampton player, George North, who returned to the field against Leicester this month after passing a head injury assessment despite appearing to be knocked out after being taken out in the air. A concussion review group is investigating the club’s handling of the affair.
“The group is reviewing all the evidence and will come up with some thoughts by, I hope, the end of the week,” Ritchie said. “It is the correct process to have put in place and there is no concern about the time it is taking because you have to make sure all the evidence is analysed. I think the timeframe has been reasonable. Their intention is the end of the week, although things can go adrift at times, and it is reasonable to say that it is being dealt with as a matter of urgency.
“Their findings will not be shuffled under the carpet and nor should they be. We have to make sure this is seen as a priority. It will be given media prominence and I have no issue with that. Concussion is a major challenge to the game and we need to make sure we get this right.
“I do not want to magnify one individual case but it is the right opportunity to see if there are broader lessons and principles that could be learned. It is an issue that needs addressing and there will be no public relations smoothing when we know the findings. The review group can make this a full disciplinary matter and if that is something that needs to be put forward, it should happen in my view, but I am not prejudging if there should be a next phase.”
Ritchie said discussions over the global calendar would carry on into the first three months of the new year. “The key issues are around the summer. It is the perennial balance between economics and player welfare. We need to look at the number of matches players play, but economics mean some teams want to play more. The seasons will not be aligned and we are in a place where the Six Nations will stay where it is as well as the November internationals and it is how you deal with the matters in between.”
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