Hartley cleared to captain England

Dylan Hartley (Getty)
Dylan Hartley (Getty)

London - Captain Dylan Hartley was on Wednesday cleared to lead England in next month's autumn Tests but prop Joe Marler will be suspended for two of the three matches.

An independent disciplinary panel decided Hartley, who pleaded not guilty, should receive no further sanction after being sent to the sin-bin for striking Clermont prop Rabah Slimani during Northampton's 24-7 European Champions Cup defeat on Saturday.

But England coach Eddie Jones will be without Marler for next month's matches against Argentina and Australia after the Harlequins front-rower pleaded guilty to striking Wasps player Will Rowlands with his forearm during his side's loss in Coventry the following day.

On a busy day for the sport's disciplinary process that included two more cases, Wasps No. 8 Nathan Hughes was handed a two-week ban for striking Marcus Smith on the neck but he will be available for the Pumas clash on November 11.

"It was found Hartley had committed a reckless act of foul play in that he had struck Slimani in the face. However, the committee was not satisfied that the offence had warranted a red card," said a statement from tournament organisers European Professional Club Rugby (EPRC).

The entry-point sanction for striking with the hand is a two-week ban, rising to eight weeks and above according to severity.

Although the offence was deemed minor, Hartley's dismal disciplinary record, which has robbed him of 60 weeks of his career, threatened to increase any sanction given and prevent him from captaining England next month.

Argentina, Australia and Samoa visit Twickenham on successive weekends starting on November 11, and while the Northampton hooker is under pressure from Jamie George for his place in the front row, he is set to be retained in the role he has performed throughout Jones's reign.

Northampton director of rugby Jim Mallinder described the decision to cite Hartley as "unjustified".

"Citings like this do beg the question of whether Dylan is being singled out for what has happened in the past rather than being judged solely on Saturday's game," he said.

Marler will miss both the Argentina and Australia matches after being banned for three weeks, but will be available for the final match against Samoa on November 25.

"The committee upheld the citing complaint and determined that the offence had warranted a red card, but decided after consideration that the strike by the player was with the arm rather than the elbow," EPRC said.

The availability of Hughes, whose strike on Smith occurred in the same match as the Marler incident at the Ricoh Arena, will come as a relief to Jones due to his lack of depth at number eight after Billy Vunipola was ruled out for three months with a knee injury.

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