Leinster head coach Leo Cullen has described the six-week ban handed down to Dylan Hartley this week as “about right”.
The Northampton hooker and England captain was red-carded after catching Sean O’Brien in the back of the neck with a stiff forearm during Leinster’s 37-10 win at Franklin’s Gardens in last Friday’s Champions Cup encounter.
The disciplinary panel that heard his case this week adjudged the infraction to be only in the mid-range category but the judgment, which allows the serial offender to return to play in time for the start of the Six Nations, has been widely criticised.
Though not by Cullen.
“In his defence, you could say he is trying to swing to make contact around the chest area,” Cullen said.
“When a player is falling it can be hard to get your timing right as a player so six weeks is a pretty lengthy ban and I think it is probably about right.”
O’Brien, who left the field after the incident, is fit enough to retain his place in a first XV that shows just two enforced changes: Zane Kirchner replaces the Rob Kearney (ankle) at full-back while Ross Byrne again deputises for Joey Carbery (ankle).
Byrne impressed when coming on for the stricken Carbery eight days ago.
The latter faces at least six weeks out after surgery while the update on Jonathan Sexton’s dodgy hamstrings was positive if still vague.
It remains to be seen if he plays this side of the New Year.
Leinster, however, are light for cover at ten - Noel Reid and Isa Nacewa are the emergency back-ups today - but they should have more than enough for a Saints side that has omitted a host of sterling names as they recalibrate their sights on domestic duties.
George Pisi will skipper a much-changed Northampton Saints side.
Pisi and fellow internationals Ahsee Tuala, Kieran Brookes, Api Ratuniyarawa, Calum Clark and Teimana Harrison all come into the starting XV for the Pool 4 return fixture.
Northampton sit bottom of Pool 4 after last weekend’s 37-10 loss to Leinster and Jim Mallinder has omitted Mike Haywood and England international Tom Wood from his squad
It’s three years since the Saints were hammered at home by Leinster before turning them over in Dublin a week later.
Not this time.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved