Dylan Hartley: England captain backed by RFU boss Ian Ritchie

_92952340_gettyimages-516572920Hooker Hartley, 30, will find out on Wednesday if he will be available for the Six Nations next year after he was sent off for the third time in his career while playing for Northampton.

In total, Hartley has served 54 weeks of suspension during his career.

“I think Dylan’s got credit in the bank,” Ritchie told BBC Sport.

“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.”

Former England head coach Stuart Lancaster dropped Hartley from his 2015 World Cup squad after the player headbutted Saracens’ Jamie George.

But he was reinstated as captain when Eddie Jones succeeded Lancaster in November 2015, and England remain unbeaten under the Australian.

Hartley returned to his club in October, following the autumn internationals, and came on as a replacement in Friday’s 37-10 defeat by Leinster in the European Champions Cup.

But after only six minutes on the pitch he was shown a red card for a swinging arm on Sean O’Brien and will now appear at an independent hearing to find out his punishment.

“Obviously it’s disappointing when he gets sent off but we’ll wait and see what happens,” RFU chief executive Ritchie added.

“If he’s eligible to be in contention for the Six Nations then it’s a matter for Eddie.

“He’s been a great leader and his performances on the pitch, and the way he’s helped Eddie with the team… I think he’s done a fantastic job.

“Ever since Dylan’s been involved in the set-up, he has been the perfect ambassador on and off the pitch.”

Rugby ‘isn’t going soft’_92953476_gettyimages-629097066

On the same weekend as Hartley’s card, Wasps’ Kurtley Beale was sin-binned for a high tackle on Connacht’s Niyi Adeolokun – a decision which prompted Wasps director of rugby Dai Young to call officiating “a bit of a joke”.

In response to Young’s comments, Ritchie said: “We need to look at high tackles and we need to be aware that concussion is a major challenge for the game.

“It’s right that World Rugby have increased some of the tariffs in those disciplinary matters. I don’t think it’s going soft but those areas around the head we should be rigorous about.”

Hartley’s club Northampton Saints have been under scrutiny after an incident involving Wales wing George North.

TV replays appeared to show North lying motionless after a fall in Saints’ recent game with Leicester, but he returned to play after passing a pitch-side assessment.

A concussion review group has now been formed to investigate the handling of the case and RFU boss Ritchie said: “They will come to a conclusion by the end of the week and we should learn lessons from that, where there are ones to learn.

“Concussion is definitely a big challenge. We have to address it head on.”

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