28 May 2015

England's Hartley ruled out of World Cup opener

10:57 am on 28 May 2015

The New Zealand born hooker Dylan Hartley will be unavailable for England's opening Rugby World Cup game against Fiji after being handed a four-week ban for head-butting an opponent.

The All Blacks captain Richie McCaw holds the Rugby World Cup. (The Webb Ellis Trophy).

The Rugby World Cup, William Webb Ellis trophy. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The Northampton forward, never a stranger to controversy, was given his sixth ban by an England Rugby Football Union disciplinary hearing after he pleaded guilty to striking Saracens' Jamie George in Sunday's Premiership semi-final.

Hartley's suspension runs from August 15th to September 21st, meaning that, should he be selected in England's World Cup squad, he will miss the warm-up games and sit out the tournament's opening showpiece at Twickenham on September 18th.

It puts a serious question mark over the participation of the 66-times capped forward who has spent 50 weeks on the sidelines through suspensions and has admitted that he is in the "last-chance" saloon.

England coach Stuart Lancaster has warned the 29-year-old about his on-field behaviour, which has brought him bans for offences ranging from gouging and biting to abusing a referee.

Hartley received the minimum suspension because, according to disciplinary hearing chairman Sean Enright, it was judged that "this offence falls within the low entry point for striking with the head" and there was no significant injury to George.

"However, there cannot be any place in our game for this class of behaviour, and that is why we have imposed this sanction," Enright added.

England face France at Twickenham on August 15th, a week before a repeat fixture at the Stade de France.

Their final warm-up is against Ireland at Twickenham on September 5th and Hartley will miss all three games.

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