Dylan Hartley pledges future to Northampton but Chris Ashton to leave

Dylan Hartley has signed a new contract tying the hooker to Northampton until 2015 but the Saints are resigned to losing another England international, Chris Ashton.

Hartley, the Northampton hooker, is in his seventh season at Franklin's Gardens and he will be 29 when his new deal runs out. Ashton joined four years ago in a cross-code switch from Wigan, but he is set to announce next month that he is moving to Saracens in the close season.

Ashton said this year that he would talk about a new contract with Northampton after the World Cup, but just before the tournament his agent joined a sports management company that looks after the brothers Sam and Joel Tomkins: the former plays for Wigan and the latter signed for Saracens from the Warriors earlier this year.

"There's not an offer on the table from us for Chris because his agent does not want to talk to us," Jim Mallinder, the Saints' director of rugby, said. "We've not had discussions and I think his mind is elsewhere. If he wanted to stay, we'd talk to him.

"If any player wants to go, for whatever reason, whether that's moving to London, or a massive financial offer, we're not going to stand in their way. We'll shake their hand and we'll get players who want to play for Northampton."

Hartley is among that number. He has made 144 appearances for the Saints and has been their captain since 2009. "I am ambitious for myself and the team and want to keep cracking on," he said. "I am very happy to be staying with the Saints. I have played all my professional rugby here and the club is a big part of my life. I have grown up here and it is a home away from home. I never considered moving anywhere else."

The Wales hooker Matthew Rees, a contender with Hartley for a place in the 2013 Lions squad, faces missing the start of the Six Nations after being cited for a dangerous tackle on the player he succeeded as the Wales captain in November last year, Ryan Jones, during the Boxing Day derby between the Scarlets and Ospreys in Llanelli.

Rees, who missed the World Cup because of a neck injury, losing the captaincy to Sam Warburton, has been cited for the alleged dangerous tackle, along with the prop Rhodri Jones, who was last month picked in the Wales squad for the first time. No date has been set for the hearing and the pair face between two and six weeks out if found guilty.

Tavis Knoyle, who was in the World Cup squad, will not feature for Wales in the Six Nations as the Scarlets scrum-half will have shoulder surgery in the new year and will be out of action for three months, the third Wales international to be ruled out of the championship after the locks Alun Wyn Jones and Luke Charteris.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Paul Rees, for The Guardian on Thursday 29th December 2011 20.31 Europe/London

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