Hartley free to face Boks
London - England hooker Dylan Hartley will be free to play against South Africa despite being banned for eight weeks for biting here on Tuesday.
Although the length of the ban means the Northampton forward will miss the rest of the domestic season, he will be available for England's three-Test tour of South Africa in June.
Hartley was cited for biting the finger of Ireland's Stephen Ferris during England's 30-9 Six Nations win at Twickenham on March 17 and a disciplinary panel found he had contravened International Rugby Board Law 10.4(m) "acts contrary to good sportsmanship".
New Zealand-born Hartley, 25, is free to play again on May 14 and he has the right of appeal.
"I am disappointed by the result and I will wait for the written judgement as to how the panel came to their conclusion," Hartley said in a statement issued by the Rugby Football Union.
"I now have to put it behind me and focus on supporting Saints (Northampton) in training and off the field.
England forwards coach Graham Rowntree, who attended the hearing to support Hartley, added: "It is unfortunate for Dylan and Northampton, especially as he was in good form during the Six Nations, and he has developed as a player and a leader. However, we are looking forward to him being available for the tour to South Africa."
Meanwhile, Northampton director of rugby Jim Mallinder, whose side are fourth in the English Premiership and who also gave evidence on Hartley's behalf, said: "We are disappointed that Dylan has been suspended, especially at a crucial part of the season."
In upholding the citing for foul play, the panel, chaired by Roger Morris of Wales, decided the offence merited a low entry point in the IRB's table of sanctions and allowed mitigation of four weeks.
A biting offence carries a low-end entry point of a 12-week suspension, with 18 weeks for mid-range and 24-plus weeks at the top end.
Ferris was heard accusing an England player of biting shortly after the incident.
Biting is a red card offence but as neither Welsh referee Nigel Owens nor his touch judges saw the incident, no action was taken during the game.
There had been speculation the 39-times capped Hartley could be sidelined for a lot longer than two months, given his 26-week ban for gouging in 2007.
Back then he was punished for making contact with the eye areas of Wasps duo Jonny O'Connor and James Haskell during a Premiership match.
However, it is believed that given the gap between the gouging incidents and this offence, the panel saw no need to link the two in any way.
England play the first of three Tests against the Springboks in Durban on June 9.
Victory over Ireland saw England finish second in the Six Nations, an encouraging result under interim coach Stuart Lancaster, with the Irish in third place.
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