Former Saints star Matt Dawson says he believes Dylan Hartley did direct his ‘cheat’ comment at referee Wayne Barnes during Saturday’s Aviva Premiership Final at Twickenham - and that the Northampton skipper deserved his sending off.
Hartley claimed that his comment was aimed at Leicester Tigers hooker Tom Youngs as half-time approached in Saints’ 37-17 defeat, and not at the match official.
But the RFU Disciplinary Panel sided with Barnes and hit Hartley with an 11-week ban, which ruled him out of the British & Irish Lions tour which kicks-off on Saturday.
And former Saints, England and Lions scrum-half Dawson, now a BBC radio commentator and pundit, thinks that decision was the right one.
“He (Hartley) claims that he was talking to an opposition player.” said Dawson, who was a World Cup winner with England and made 246 Saints appearances in his 13-year stint at Franklin’s Gardens.
“What you have to remember is that there are lots of former and current players who know the scenario.
“I’ve seen the footage, I’ve seen the little glance to the left out of the corner of his eye when he was swearing and saying ‘cheat’.
“My interpretation, and it doesn’t mean it’s fact, is that it was directed at the referee.
“And certainly if the referee felt that, and bearing in mind the referee had already warned him, then he was well within his rights to send him off.
“Obviously Dylan is paying the price for that and I think he’ll regret that for the rest of his life because I think the Lions will win the series and he could have been a part of that.
“But rugby and the Lions will move on and be a better game for it.”
Dawson, who was promoting HSBC bank at its branch in Abington Street, Northampton yesterday, also said Barnes’ decision and the RFU’s backing of the referee is a great example.
“I think it sends a brilliant message to rugby officials and, more importantly, for children who heard that language: That’s how it should be dealt with. You should be ashamed and if you use that language that is what will happen,” said Dawson.
“It’s a fabulous example that strengthens our game for years to come.”
Although Dawson felt the decision to dismiss Hartley was the correct one, he also praised the Saints for their performance.
“The conversation piece will always be Dylan Hartley, but I will remember a great game of rugby,” said Dawson.
“Leicester got off to a flying start and not many teams would have come back as well as Northampton.
“And that 20-25 minutes when it looked like Saints could come back and worry Leicester with 14 men was incredible.”