NATIONS rugby chiefs were last night coming under increasing pressure to explain their reasoning after England hooker Dylan Hartley escaped with an eight-week ban for biting Ireland’s Stephen Ferris.
The suspension, which leaves Hartley free for the summer tour to South Africa, is four weeks shorter than the minimum stipulated by the International Rugby Board and some way off the maximum four-year ban.
An independent Six Nations disciplinary committee, which heard the case yesterday in London, said Hartley’s sanction had “allowed mitigation of four weeks”, but did not say on what grounds.
The full reasons for their judgment will not be released until Friday, leaving experts and supporters puzzled and calling for greater transparency in postings on social media last night.
Hartley’s ban runs until 14 May, meaning he will only play for Northampton again this season if they reach the Premiership final 12 days later. However he will be available for England’s summer tour, with the first of three Tests against the Springboks on 9 June.
The New Zealand-born 26-year-old, who was accused of biting flanker Ferris’s finger during England’s 30-9 Six Nations victory over Ireland, expressed his dissatisfaction at being found guilty.
“I’m disappointed by the result and I will wait for the written judgment as to how the panel came to their conclusion,” said Hartley, who was banned for 26 weeks in 2007 for gouging. “I now have to put it behind me and focus on supporting Saints in training and off the field.”
England scrum coach Graham Rowntree, who gave evidence at the hearing along with Hartley, Ferris and Northampton boss Jim Mallinder, welcomed Hartley’s summer availability.
“It is unfortunate for Dylan and Northampton, as he was in good form during the Six Nations,” said Rowntree. “However, we are looking forward to him being available for the tour to South Africa.”