Dylan Hartley learned his fate for his forearm smash to the back of Sean O'Brien's head this afternoon: he's been hit with a six-week ban, coincidentally ending just in time to allow his participation in this year's Six Nations. It brings his cumulative career suspensions to 60 weeks, and in fairness to Hartley, the 'forearm smash' was about the only act of violence which he had yet to commit on a rugby field, having already been banned for gouging, biting, head-butting, verbally abusing, punching and elbowing.
The upper limit of a ban for striking is ten weeks, so it was expected that Hartley would be hit with the more severe punishment, given his abhorrent record in his career to date. Not so, and the six-week ban means he will be back in time to help England defend their Six Nations title: he will be back on Monday, January 23rd.
The Chief Executive of the Rugby Football Union, Ian Ritchie spoke to the BBC yesterday ahead of the hearing, defending his man while confirming that his position as England captain was never under threat, regardless of the length of the ban.
Whatever about the morality of that, Ritchie's subsequent comments beggar belief. You wouldn't imagine a man who has spent over a year of his thirty on this Earth serving suspensions for acting like a thug would have much by way of excuse in these hearings, but somehow, that's what Ritchie believes.
I think Dylan's got credit in the bank.
I think most people would say it's been a fantastic year. We've had 13 wins out of 13 and Dylan has made a huge contribution and he should be allowed to continue that.
Dylan has clearly played a fantastic part in captaining the team, on and off the pitch just to be clear. His leadership credentials are very strong. He's made a huge contribution.
So you view all these things in perspective and in perspective one looks at the totality of what he's done and what's happened over the years. I think we should be supportive of that.
The implication there is that Hartley should be cut some slack because he is the captain of a very successful team, which is clearly nonsensical. "Leadership credentials" should not count for much if you are a genuine danger to your opponents on the field.
See Also: 'There Should Be Exceptions; He Was No Longer A Mercenary, He Wanted To Stay'