Hartley slapped with six-week suspension

by AFP

England captain Dylan Hartley will be available to skipper the Six Nations Grand Slam titleholders for their opening game after receiving a six-week ban on Wednesday.

The 31-year-old New Zealand-born hooker received the ban for striking Leinster flanker Sean O'Brien in last Friday's European Champions Cup clash with his side Northampton.

Hartley had only been on the pitch for six minutes.

Hartley, who was left out of the 2015 World Cup squad by previous England coach Stuart Lancaster because of his poor disciplinary record, will be free to play again on January 23.

He will still face a race to be considered match fit with England beginning the defence of their Six Nations title against France at Twickenham on February 4.

Hartley's previous poor record counted against him when the Independent Disciplinary Commission came to consider their punishment.

"In upholding the red card decision, the Committee found that the offence was at the mid-range of World Rugby's sanctions and selected five weeks as the appropriate entry point," read the judgement of the Commission.

"Taking into account Hartley's poor disciplinary record, the Committee added two weeks to the sanction and then reduced the sanction by one week due to the player's guilty plea before imposing a suspension of six weeks."

Hartley's history

April 2007: Banned for 26 weeks after gouging Wasps' duo James Haskell and Jonny O'Connor.

March 2012: Banned for eight weeks for biting Ireland flanker Stephen Ferris during Six Nations match.

June 2012: Yellow-carded in first game as England captain against South Africa.

December 2012: Given a two-week ban for striking Ulster's Rory Best.

May 2013: Eleven-week ban after being sent off for swearing at the referee, which cost him a place in the British and Irish Lions tour of Australia -- his place went to Best.

December 2014: Banned for three weeks for elbowing Leicester's Matt Smith.

May 2015: Banned for four weeks for headbutting Saracens' Jamie George -- cost him his place in the World Cup squad.