Saints chairman Hewitt stands by skipper Hartley

Dylan Hartley (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
Dylan Hartley (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

Tony Hewitt has stressed that Saints will continue to support skipper Dylan Hartley following his latest disciplinary issue.

Hartley has been hit with a four-week ban for headbutting Saracens hooker Jamie George in last Saturday’s Aviva Premiership play-off semi-final at Franklin’s Gardens.

The 29-year-old was not punished for the incident, which occurred after Tom Wood’s 57th-minute try, at the time, but was later cited and forced to attend an RFU hearing on Wednesday.

Hartley pleaded guilty to the charge of striking an opponent with the head and will be banned from August 15 to September 21.

That means he will miss England’s World Cup warm-up games and the tournament opener against Fiji on September 18.

But whatever happens with England - head coach Stuart Lancaster could yet decide to leave Hartley out of his squad - Saints will stand by their captain.

“We’ll continue to support Dylan,” said Hewitt. “What a lot of people don’t see if the good work Dylan does with the squad off the pitch, he’s very good at the team-building aspect.

“He also does a number of charity commitments, he’s very good like that. You often get this dilemma of Dylan being a totally different person off the pitch.

“As regards to his England position, that’s totally down to Stuart Lancaster. Stuart will make that decision, taking it account everything.

“Here at Northampton we will continue to support Dylan.”

Hartley was banned for three weeks after elbowing Leicester Tigers centre Matt Smith in a derby game back in December.

And his latest suspension means he has now accrued 54 weeks of bans during his career.

But Hewitt feels Hartley’s history is now starting to count against him.

He said: “The margins are very fine in competitive rugby in the really big games and unfortunately because Dylan has had a number of incidents, everyone focuses on incidents involving Dylan and probably takes a slightly different view that they would of other players.

“On Saturday, we saw a player (Jacques Burger) physically push our players but nothing’s happened, so it’s that very fine margin between somebody being cited with an offence and somebody not.”

Some have called into question Hartley’s role as Saints captain.

But Hewitt said: “We obviously talk about it with Jim (Mallinder) and at board level, but we’ve stood by Dylan and we’ll continue to stand by him because he’s been a very good player for Northampton.

“You also can’t overlook the fact he’s had more than 60 caps for England, so he’s a very senior player.

“If you look back on history, players like Martin Johnson weren’t angels either so in the new era it would have been very difficult for players like that.”