'The discipline is becoming an issue' - Hartley the latest Saint to sin

Kieran Brookes and Calum Clark will be back from bans this weekend in Dublin.

THE DYLAN HARTLEY red card tops the pile, but it’s only the latest in a growing string of incidents involving Northampton players going over the edge.

The England captain deserves a lengthy ban for his vicious, cowardly swinging arm to the back of Sean O’Brien’s head.

Jérôme Garcès red card Dylan Hartley Hartley got his marching orders on Friday night. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Not only has Hartley previously served a total of 54 weeks of suspensions for offences including gouging, biting, verbally abusing a match official, striking and elbowing, but concussion is the major issue in rugby right now.

O’Brien was forced off the pitch for a Head Injury Assessment as a result of Hartley’s dangerous actions, and did not return to the field of play afterwards. The Ireland flanker was not diagnosed with concussion, rather a neck injury, but the danger was still apparent.

Striking carries a low-end entry point of two weeks in terms of suspension, but the high-end entry point of eight weeks and upwards should apply to Hartley. He has proven time and again that he cannot control his violent streak on the rugby pitch and the EPCR’s independent disciplinary committee must act with strength.

The sport is becoming increasingly frustrated with the disciplinary process and its perceived leniency, meaning all eyes are on the Hartley case. A hearing and ban is expected in the next two days.

Hartley’s Northampton team-mate Calum Clark will be available for the return tie against Leinster in Dublin on Saturday, having served just a three-week ban for his deliberate elbow to the head of Donncha O’Callaghan.

“The player’s remorse before the panel was genuine and heartfelt,” read the RFU statement relating to that suspension, with the disciplinary committee finding it only worthy of a mid-range entry point.

Clark has history too, having served a 32-week ban for deliberately hyperextending the arm of Leicester hooker Rob Hawkins in a Premiership clash back in 2012. In 2008, he was sent off for head butting in an U20 international fixture.

Tom Wood dejected Wood is not impressed with his side's discipline. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Also back this weekend for Northampton is England international tighthead Kieran Brookes, who has just served a two-week ban for charging into a ruck without using his arms.

All in all, it’s not been a good few weeks for Northampton – even leaving the George North episode aside – and captain Tom Wood understands that the discipline simply must improve.

“I don’t want to talk too much about Dylan himself, but as a club the discipline is becoming an issue,” said Wood on Friday night, having bizarrely been substituted after Hartley’s red card to allow the Saints to get hooker Mikey Haywood back on the pitch.

“We have had three or four hearings in the last few weeks. In the Saracens game we had a man yellow carded when we were right in the fight. They’re accumulating.

“You can forgive any one individual or any one-off, but there must be some sort of underlying issue at the minute that we have to address. I don’t know if it’s individual responsibility or frustration bringing that out in people, because let’s face it we’re not on the form that we like, and maybe people are trying to solve problems and show how up for it they are.”

Hartley lasted just six minutes on the pitch on Friday, having started the game on the bench for Northampton – perhaps another sign that all is not well in the Premiership club.

His swinging arm was incredibly dangerous, with Wood suggesting that the hooker was looking to make a big impact on the game, with the Saints trailing 20-10.

Dylan Hartley dejected after being red carded Hartley watches on from the stands. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“I can only assume that he is trying to make an impact and be positive,” said Wood. “I can’t speak for him but my impression is that he’s on the bench, he’s eager, and it’s a big European night and he wants to make an impact.

“If it was a one-off you’d say the guy [O'Brien] is half tackled, falling, and there are mitigating circumstances, but it’s such a big directive at the minute, contact to the head, there was only ever going to be one decision and you have to take that.”

While worrying about their discipline, Saints must now rally themselves ahead of the return leg with Leinster, who are not getting carried away after their five-try win.

Northampton certainly possess individual quality within their squad, but as they lie ninth in the Premiership at present, they urgently need to kick start their season. Another performance like last weekend’s won’t be good enough at the Aviva Stadium.

“It was a dreadful start by us,” said Wood. “We spoke all week about having a big start and coming out of the blocks, but we were just flat. We stood and watched them for 20 minutes.

“They’re too good to do that against. We could have played really well tonight and still got beaten. What’s disappointing is that we didn’t play for large parts.”

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