Dylan Hartley will miss the British Lions tour to Australia after receiving an 11-week ban for being sent-off in the Premiership final.
The Rugby Football Union announced the suspension – which runs until September 1st – in light of his dismissal for calling the referee a “cheat” in Northampton’s 37-17 loss to Leicester at Twickenham.
The Saints captain had already been warned about dissent by match official Wayne Barnes, but when his team conceded a penalty under their own posts, Hartley made the ill-timed remark.
At Sunday’s hearing, the 27-year-old pleaded not guilty, claiming that his comment was aimed at opposite number Ben Youngs – his England and Lions rival – but guilty was the verdict.
A spokesman from the British and Irish Lions declared after the match: “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.”
The front-rower’s career has been blighted by incident and a dossier of previous misdemeanours meant escaping punishment always looked unlikely.
In 2007 he copped a 26-week ban for “making illegal contact with the eye area” of Wasps players Johnny O’Connor and James Haskell – a suspension that ended his England World Cup hopes.
In 2012 he was a front-runner for the England captaincy before being found guilty of biting Ireland’s Stephen Ferris, and he was subsequently banned for eight weeks.
Later that year he was given a two-week ban for striking another Irishman, Rory Best.
Ironically, it looks as if Best will be the main beneficiary of this weekend’s developments – with the Ulsterman set to tour in Hartley’s place.
The British and Irish Lions are priced at 8/11 with Ladbrokes to win this summer’s series down-under.
All odds and Markets correct at time of publication