Dylan is the heartbeat of Saints, says Wood

FULL BACKING - Tom Wood is supporting banned Saints skipper Dylan Hartley (picture by Linda Dawson)

FULL BACKING - Tom Wood is supporting banned Saints skipper Dylan Hartley (picture by Linda Dawson)

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Tom Wood says the Saints squad are fully behind Dylan Hartley after the club captain was handed an 11-week ban.

Hartley attended an RFU disciplinary hearing on Sunday and was found guilty of verbally abusing referee Wayne Barnes during the first half of Saturday’s Premiership final.

He will now miss the Lions’ tour of Australia and three of Saints’ pre-season games as he is unable to return until September 1.

But Wood, who says he didn’t hear Hartley utter the words ‘f****** cheat’, for which he was dismissed, was wholehearted in his support for his skipper.

“I didn’t hear what he said or how it came across,” said Wood, who will lead England in South America this summer. “I was back-pedalling 10 metres, but I do fully support Dylan.

“He’s the heartbeat of our club, he leads from the front every day in training, he’s an emotional man, he wears his heart on his sleeve and we back him all the way.

“He is our leader and it’s tough when things like this happen, but it’s what makes Dylan Dylan. He plays on the edge and leads from the front and that’s why we’re all behind him.”

With Hartley shown a red card on the brink of half-time, Saints were forced to battle on for the entire second half of Saturday’s showpiece against Leicester with 14 men.

But they put up the bravest of fights and Wood, who took over captaincy duties after the break, was full of pride after his side’s 37-17 defeat at Twickenham.

“Leicester are a quality side,” said Wood. “They’re very strong with their basics. We battled bravely but in the end the dam broke.

“I’m proud of the way we dug in and kept fighting, but they’ve got so many powerful strike runners that the numbers and weight of pressure told.

“I’m proud of everyone to a man. The bench came on and kept up going because there was people out on their feet out there, really digging deep.”