Dylan Hartley has revealed he was ready to relinquish his role as Saints captain after seeing red in the Aviva Premiership final.
Hartley was sent off just before half-time in the game against Leicester Tigers at Twickenham in May after allegedly calling referee Wayne Barnes a ‘cheat’.
Saints went on to lose 37-17, missing their chance to become Premiership champions for the first time, and Hartley was subsequently banned for 11 weeks.
And the 27-year-old, who, on Thursday, was named as Northampton captain for the fifth successive season, says he was prepared to step aside.
“It’s not my job to choose me as captain,” Hartley told the BBC. “Jim (Mallinder) and the coaching team have picked me and wanted me to do it.
“There was a stage where I sat down with Jim and said to him ‘from an outside position, do people want to see a change as captain?’.
“I was in a position to step down and basically I had a lot of coffees with Jim and I had it clear in my head that I would step down.
“Nothing would change, I said I’d still be a big player and I’d still contribute and I didn’t want me, every time we played, overhanging the new-look Saints because I think this year we’ve got a squad that can contend.”
Hartley told an RFU disciplinary panel that he was not aiming the remark at Barnes, instead saying he directed it at Leicester’s Tom Youngs.
The Saints hooker, whose suspension saw him lose the chance of going on the Lions’ tour of Australia this summer, stands by that statement.
And he says no one hurts more than him at how things finished up on that fateful day at HQ.
He said “I’m sorry for how it ended, but I’ll stand by what I’ve always said. I’ll apologise for the outcome but when I, hand on my heart, feel and know what I said and who I directed it at, I find it hard to apologise for that.
“But after being through the disciplinary process, I can see how it was interpreted and I can see how I’ve received a ban.
“I’m doing my time, I’ve done my time before and I’ll come back and give it another good crack, but I’m not going to go round and apologise to every single supporter.
“If anyone hurts the most it’s me. I’m very aware that the fans are who we play for and are very passionate about the game, but no one is as passionate as me.
“I play for myself, that’s why I’m playing. I want to achieve, I want to succeed, I want to win, so if anyone hurts it’s me.
“I’ve let down my team-mates, I lost the Premiership final and also things like Lions tours as well.”
Hartley will return from suspension in time to play in Saints’ opening game of the 2013/14 Premiership season, at home to Exeter on September 7.