A while ago, on the 17th November last year I wrote about Dylan Hartley, the New Zealand born England hooker and captain of Northampton. This was after he was yellow carded for stamping on Duane Vermeulen’s leg during the Test Match between England and South Africa.

There were mutterings in the English media that a yellow for a mere stamping was excessively harsh and that “these things happen all the time in rugby”!!

At the time my Dad, who is 87 years old, suggested that a Red card was the appropriate sanction for what Hartley had done. He correctly stated that

  1. a) It was deliberate and premeditated.
  2. b) He aimed at the knee which could have resulted in a permanent and career ending injury, even a lifetime crippling blow, if a stud had found a vulnerable spot.
  3. c) He could very easily have avoided any contact with Vermeulen, but chose not to.

The summary of that discussion is that it was a clear and deliberate contravention of Law 10.4, d) which reads:

Law 10.4 Dangerous Play and Misconduct

(b) Stamping or trampling. A player must not stamp or trample on an opponent. Sanction: Penalty kick

Law 10.5 sets out the sanctions available to referee in addition to the automatic penalty.


(a) Any player who infringes any part of the Foul Play Law must be admonished, or cautioned and temporarily suspended for a period of ten minutes’ playing time, or sent-off.

The more I thought about it the more I felt that Hartley had most certainly gone beyond the level of a temporary suspension and deserved a Red card. The stamping action was absolutely deliberate and contrary to the letter and the spirit of the Laws of the Game. It was a very serious and dangerous action in that it could have resulted in the end of a man’s playing career. He intended to hurt and do damage, to take the law into his own “hands” and punish Vermeulen for what he believed was an infringement.

It should have been RED and it should have resulted in off-field sanction and a long term suspension.

That should have been the end of the discussion.

Unfortunately Mr Hartley is back in trouble again.

Hartley was cited following the Premiership semifinal match between Northampton Saints and Saracens for striking an opponent with his head, contrary to Law 10.4(a).

The lower end of the scale punishment for striking with the head is a four-week ban, rising to 12 weeks or more depending on the scale of seriousness.

With Northampton’s season now over, any period of suspension for Hartley is unlikely to start until England begin their World Cup warm-up programme in mid-August.

Based on Stuart Lancaster’s exclusion of Manu Tuilagi from the England World Cup squad for this year after Tuilagi had assaulted a police officer after a non-rugby related function, one wonders what he will do about Mr Hartley.

If he goes according to his stated principles, Mr Hartley’s aspirations to play in the World Cup of 2015 are over.

Let us not be too sorry for Dylan Hartley. He has an appalling disciplinary record!

His suspensions from the game after disciplinary action add up to a total of 50 weeks over his playing career. In terms of a rugby season, he has spent nearly one and a half seasons in rugby’s version of the naughty corner.

His verbal abuse of referee Wayne Barnes during the 2013 Premiership final resulted in a red card and being dropped from the British & Irish Lions tour to Australia. He copped an 11-week suspension for that one. (He was captain of Northampton Saints at the time – watch the video of this incident on YouTube if you want to!)

Other Red Card incidents include a 26 week suspension for eye-gouging two Wasps players, James Haskell and Jonny O’Connor.

He was suspended for 8 weeks after biting Ireland’s Stephen Ferris in a Six Nations Test.

In 2012 he was suspended for 2 weeks after punching Rory Best in a Heineken Cup game.

In December 2014 he was sent off for elbowing Leicester Tigers’ Matt Smith in the nose, another 3 weeks suspension.

Now we have a 4-week suspension for his head butting Saracens Jamie George during the Premiership semi-final last weekend.

If we were to start adding in his yellow card offences, of which there are substantially more than the six red cards he has accumulated during his 1st class career, this man is a liability for his team and coaches. He is a walking penalty waiting to happen and is also likely to force his team to play with 14 men for long periods at a time.

For England’s sake Stuart Lancaster needs to drop him from their World Cup squad. Have no doubt that the hard men of world rugby have taken note of his fiery inability to control himself, and he will be targeted by every team he plays against. England do not need that kind of loose cannon in their ranks.

The rest of us hope he will be selected! We like playing against a 14 man England.


Bill van Zyl circa May 2015