Rugby: Fallout from cheating accusation could rule Hartley out of Lions side bound for Australia

England hooker Dylan Hartley. Photo / Getty Images.
England hooker Dylan Hartley. Photo / Getty Images.

English hooker Dylan Hartley was facing a Rugby Football Union hearing early today that could spell the end of his British and Irish Lions tour.

The 27-year-old will have his case heard by a panel headed by Judge Jeff Blackett in London and is unlikely to head to Australia with the Lions when they leave tonight.

The Rotorua-born hooker was sent off in the Premiership Final and embroiled in a cheating storm at Twickenham yesterday as his Northampton side went down 37-17 to Leicester. Hartley allegedly accused referee Wayne Barnes of cheating his side - comments that were heard by many of the 82,000 crowd who had access to the audio link with officials - and was immediately sent off.

Hartley has been the subject of three previous bans. In 2007 he was sidelined for six months for gouging and last year was suspended for punching and biting.

If Blackett gets tough he could ban Hartley for a year - the maximum under the current guidelines - although he could get away with less than six weeks which is the current minimum recommended sanction. Any ban over two weeks, however, would rule him out of the Lions tour after officials confirmed at Twickenham that all players must be fit and available for the second game of the tour on June 5 in Perth.

Hartley denies he was talking to Barnes and he has the backing of his club. Northampton director of rugby Jim Mallinder said: "If you talk like that to a player then you wouldn't expect anything to happen. Clearly, Wayne Barnes believes that Dylan has spoken to him, and that's why he has given him the red card.

"I'll support Dylan. He's my captain and if he said he wasn't speaking to the referee and was speaking to the player on the floor, then I can only support my skipper in what he says."

The Hartley incident undermined Leicester's fourth Premiership play-off title win in the last nine finals.

- AFP

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