Dylan Hartley, the New Zealand-born captain of Northampton, will almost certainly have to forfeit his place on the Lions tour to Australia after he was red-carded for verbally abusing the referee just before half-time in the English Aviva Premiership final.
The England RFU announced last night (Saturday) that it would hold a disciplinary hearing into the allegation tonight NZ time.
Hartley's dismissal might also have cost Northampton the game. After a scrum had broken up and referee Wayne Barnes had awarded a penalty to Leicester, Barnes suddenly blew a loud blast on his whistle and flourished a red card in Hartley's direction. He explained to the Northampton players: "Your player called me a f****** cheat."
A statement released by the RFU read: "Hartley was sent off for alleged verbal abuse of a match official. The case will be heard by a panel chaired by Judge Jeff Blackett and the result will be released electronically following its conclusion."
The International Rugby Board has clamped down on abuse of officials, with the minimum suspension set at six weeks.
This could be reduced for a player with a previously clean record but Hartley, who has been suspended in the past for gouging and punching opponents, will surely not escape, even though the Saints director of rugby, Jim Mallinder, claimed that his player's comments were aimed at Leicester hooker Tom Youngs.
"I have spoken to Dylan, who said that he was talking to Tom Youngs on the floor and not to the referee," he said.
"It was a massive change in the game." Television replays, however, appeared to show that Hartley was facing Barnes when he made his outburst.
The Lions have confirmed that if Hartley is unavailable for their second tour match, against Western Force on June 5, he will be replaced in the squad.
At the time of Hartley's dismissal, Northampton were trailing 13-5 but, despite being pre-match underdogs, they were still in the game. The powerful Tigers, playing in their ninth premiership final running, pulled away against the undermanned Saints.
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