Northampton Saints flanker Teimana Harrison has leapt to the defence of Dylan Hartley, who was banned for six weeks yesterday following his red card against Leinster, with Harrison insisting his teammate “is not a prick”.
England captain Hartley was sent off 58 minutes into Saints’ 10-37 Champions Cup defeat to Leinster at Franklin’s Gardens last Friday following a swinging arm on Sean O’Brien. The six-week ban means he will be free for England’s entire Six Nations campaign.
Hartley appeared before an independent disciplinary hearing in London to be sanctioned for the third red card of his career.
The thee-man hearing upheld the decision of referee Jerome Garces to issue a red card and found that the offence was at the mid-range of World Rugby’s sanctions, selecting a five-week suspension for the offence.
Two weeks were added due to Hartley’s poor disciplinary record before it was reduced by one week because of his guilty plea.
It means he is free to play from January 23, enabling him to lead England when they open their Six Nations defence against France at Twickenham on February 4.
However, despite that let-off, Hartley has come under intense criticism from sections of the media and public.
But Harrison, who plays with Hartley for England and Northampton, defended the hooker.
“I can’t speak for everyone,” said Harrison. “But from what I see is when he is winning Grand Slams, when he is making history away with England, everyone is: ‘Ah, Dylan is awesome. Dylan is great. You’re the man.’
“Then he does one thing and he slips up, and everyone is like: ‘You’re a prick. You’re this, you’re that. You shouldn’t be playing.’
“Whereas it shouldn’t be like that. He is not a prick, he didn’t mean to do that sort of stuff. I think it was unfortunate, I don’t think there was any bad intent in it.
“It is easy to jump on his back. You look at his track record and it is not the best. Obviously, he has had a few run-ins with the judicial process.
“I think he is quite an easy target; once he does something bad it will make headlines.”
Hartley’s red card has come at a bad time for the hooker, who along with Ireland’s Rory Best and Wales’ Alun Wyn Jones is competing to captain the British & Irish Lions next summer on their tour of New Zealand.
Hartley’s latest dismissal against Leinster, coupled with his previous track record, have led some to question his chances of leading Warren Gatland’s side.
Indeed, the England captain’s career bans now total 60 weeks and he missed the 2015 World Cup due to a disciplinary breach.
But Harrison believes the public do not get a fair reflection of the real Hartley and insists that behind the scenes he is a brilliant captain.
“I think for him, the team is like family,” said Harrison.
“So when we are away with England we eat out as a team, we do everything as a team. The way he speaks, the way he gets people motivated, I think he understands what makes people tick. So he gets the best out of them that way.
“He is an awesome leader, that’s one of the best things about him — the way he leads the boys. The way he is able to run a team is awesome.
“Him and Woody (Tom Wood) together, the team is run awesome at the minute in that respect. We just need to get our on-field sorted.”
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