Hartley could become England captain
April 1, 2012
Dylan Hartley is currently serving an eight-week ban © Getty Images
The England scrum coach made the remarks during testimony that helped limit the Northampton hooker's recent ban for biting Ireland flanker Stephen Ferris to eight weeks.
The 26-year-old was found guilty of biting the finger of Ferris in England's 30-9 Six Nations victory over Ireland at Twickenham, after the independent disciplinary panel ruled his reaction to finding Ferris' finger inadvertently in or near his mouth was "not justifiable".
Hartley could have faced a much lengthier suspension given he was banned for six months in 2007 for eye-gouging Wasps players Jonny O'Connor and James Haskell in the same match.
The panel decided to "ignore" the gouging incident following "glowing" character references from Rowntree and Northampton director of rugby Jim Mallinder, reducing the ban from 12 to eight weeks.
Rowntree insisted on attending the hearing to speak on Hartley's behalf and detailed the "massive change" he has seen in the player since his "struggle in 2007".
He also described Hartley as "a beacon and a leader" during England's recent troubled times and he added that "no-one had more credibility with his peers". Hartley's eight-week suspension means he will be available for the Aviva Premiership final at the end of May, if Northampton qualify, and for England's summer tour of South Africa.
Harlequins flanker Chris Robshaw was made England captain for the Six Nations but Rowntree said Hartley "was very close to having been made captain of the national team and might well soon become captain". The panel accepted Rowntree and Mallinder's plea for them to recognise Hartley as being "very different from the man who committed the offence in 2007".
The full 13-page report, signed by chairman Roger Morris, says: "The easy course for the committee to follow was to ignore what they had heard and take the player's previous suspension into account.
"However to do that would have been to rely on the anecdotal baggage surrounding the player and not on the facts before them. It would also fail to acknowledge that the purpose of sanction is also to cause an offender to think again about his behaviour and that, the committee felt compelled to conclude, was what the player had done."
The three-man disciplinary committee acknowledged Hartley's disciplinary record had been clean for five years since the gouging incident and reduced his ban from a potential 12 weeks.
The report concludes: "The committee considered it appropriate to give the player credit for his clean (apart from one instance they had decided to ignore) record, his exemplary demeanour at the hearing, the glowing testimony from Messrs Rowntree and Mallinder and the compelling story they had heard about how the player had been prepared, himself, to address and seek to correct his own behaviour."
The panel concluded Ferris' finger was in or near Hartley's mouth as a consequence of his attempts to clear the England player from a ruck with a judo throw. The committee found it "difficult to envisage a situation in which a bite would not be an intentional action".
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