Dylan Hartley red card overshadows Leicester’s title triumph
Northampton hooker insists comment was directed at opposing player not referee
Leicester 37 Northampton 17:Dylan Hartley is in danger of missing the British and Irish Lions tour after he became the first player to be sent off in an Aviva Premiership final.
The Northampton captain was dismissed for allegedly calling referee Wayne Barnes a “f****** cheat” shortly before the interval in Leicester’s victory at Twickenham.
The minimum ban for swearing at officials is six weeks but Hartley has insisted, via Saints director of rugby Jim Mallinder, that his comments were aimed at Leicester hooker Tom Youngs.
Hartley will face a disciplinary hearing this week, likely to be on Tuesday.
The Lions confirmed to Press Association Sport that if Hartley is unavailable for their second tour match, against Western Force on June 5th, then he would be replaced in the squad.
A Lions spokesman said: “Warren Gatland has always indicated that these players (competing in Premiership and Pro12 finals) would not play in the first match against the Barbarians but they would have to be available for the second match of the tour.
“That is the criteria for Hartley coming on tour. If he gets a suspension that prevents him from making that second game then that is where we are.”
Mallinder said Hartley’s version of events was backed up by a number of other senior players.
“I asked Dylan at half-time and I’ve just asked him again ‘what happened? What did you say?’ He said he was talking to Tom Youngs.
“If you talk like that to a player I wouldn’t expect anything to happen. Clearly, Wayne Barnes has believed Dylan has spoken to him.
“I support Dylan. He is my captain. If he says he wasn’t speaking to the referee and he was speaking to a player on the floor I can only support what he says.”
An incident-packed final saw Leicester skipper Toby Flood not last the first half because of concussion, while Northampton assistant coach Dorian West, speaking during a pitchside television interview, accused Leicester boss Richard Cockerill of “intimidating” match officials.
The game ultimately went Tigers’ way as Dubliner Niall Morris and fellow winger Vereneki Goneva, lock Graham Kitchener and Lions centre Manu Tuilagi scored tries, with Flood booting a penalty and conversion and his replacement George Ford kicking four penalties.
But Northampton, despite being down to 14 men for half the contest, conjured tries as Stephen Myler, Ben Foden and Lee Dickson all collected touchdowns, with Myler adding one conversion.
Leicester deservedly lifted their first Premiership title since 2010 in front of an 81,000 crowd, but it will be overshadowed by Hartley’s red card and the ensuing fall-out.
Leicester arrived in the final for a ninth successive season, and they paraded a starting line-up featuring six Lions.
Hartley was the solitary Lion in Northampton’s ranks, but Saints’ impressive semi-final victory over Saracens confirmed genuine title pedigree despite finishing fourth following the 22-game regular league season.
Leicester, though, flew out of the starting blocks, scoring 10 points in eight points with such authority that Northampton were left wondering what had hit them.
Flood kicked a penalty, and then his defence-splitting inside pass sent Goneva clear. Centre Anthony Allen took the move on before Flood teased Saints’ defence and timed his scoring pass perfectly to Morris, who was named last week in the the Ireland squad to tour the United States and Canada.
Flood landed the conversion, and Leicester — 36-8 conquerors of Northampton when the teams last met two months ago — were off and running.
But their opponents’ response was impressive, hitting back when Dickson took a quick penalty and centre Luther Burrell acted as a strong link to send Myler over.
Leicester then suffered a couple of injury scares, firstly when Lions flanker Tom Croft landed on his shoulder after he was lifted in a lineout, before Flood came off second best following a crunching Courtney Lawes tackle.
The Leicester coaching staff were left fuming by Lawes’s hit, and Flood needed five minutes of treatment until he went off for concussion checks, with Bath-bound Ford taking over from him.
Flood’s departure temporarily left Leicester disorganised, and the Northampton pack camped inside Tigers’ 22 through a series of scrums as it was confirmed Flood would not be returning.
But Leicester soaked up the pressure and forged their way back downfield when full-back Mathew Tait sprinted clear into space, and Ford, on his final Tigers appearance, kicked Leicester 13-5 ahead.
Northampton, frustrated not to have converted territorial supremacy into points, thought they had claimed a second try five minutes before half-time after Foden powered over the line, but Tigers lock Kitchener got underneath him to prevent a clear-cut touchdown.
Television match official Graham Hughes took a long time deliberating before ruling in Leicester’s favour, but both Foden and his watching rugby director Jim Mallinder could not believe it.
But matters then disintegrated for Saints. Myler, having been told by Barnes, that he could not put a 22-metre restart into touch on the full during injury time, promptly did so and the official went back infield for a scrum.
Northampton then infringed, Hartley lost his cool and he received a straight red card, trudging off as Ford kicked the penalty for a 16-5 interval advantage.
Foden cut the arrears with a try early in the second half, but that was cancelled out by Kitchener’s touchdown before resilient Northampton struck again when Dickson crossed and Myler converted.
It was heroic stuff in adversity from Northampton, yet Leicester’s numerical advantage had to tell eventually, and scores from Tuilagi and Goneva finished Saints off.