Saints players have rallied round skipper Dylan Hartley after he was banned for 11 weeks for verbally abusing referee Wayne Barnes in Saturday’s Aviva Premiership Grand Final defeat to Leicester Tigers at Twickenham.
Hartley claimed he aimed his ‘cheat’ comment at Tigers hooker Tom Youngs, but Barnes red-carded the Saints skipper for saying it to him, and the RFU disciplinary panel backed the match official.
It means Hartley will now miss the British & Irish Lions tour to Australia, but he will be available for selection when Saints start the new Premiership campaign in September.
Hartley has been roundly condemned for his actions on the stroke of half-time in the 37-17 defeat to Leicester, but fly-half Stephen Myler, lock Christian Day and scrum-half Lee Dickson all leapt to the defence of their club captain.
They all insist that the public perception of the New Zealand-born hooker is a far cry of what the man is really like, and were quick to make that clear.
“We are all behind Dylan. He is our captain, he is our leader,” said Myler, who scored seven of Saints’ points at Twickenham.
“He is an inspirational leader, he leads by what he does.
“He is an intensive guy, he gets himself around the pitch and he shows us the way.
“Dylan has been at the club for a long time now, and he is captain for a reason.
“I don’t think he is a malicious player.”
Day added: “Dylan was very quiet after the game.
“He has a reputation with the public for being brash and loud, but he is not like that at all.
“He is a quiet guy, he works really, really hard and I am really disappointed for him that somehting else is now going to go against his name.
“Whether he said what he said and who he said it to I have no idea, but certainly that isn’t the image of the guy that I have got.
“He was distraught to miss the second half.”
Scrum-half Dickson has been a team-mate of Hartley’s for both Saints and England, and he said the players were desperate to beat Leicester after their skipper’s dismissal for dissent.
“We were buzzing at half-time, and we wanted to do it for Dylan,” he said.
“Dylan is massive for this team, he means everything to the boys, he is a leader in every aspect of his game and he leads from the front.
“Off the pitch he is a phenomenal character to have at the club, and I love playing with him.
“He is a lovely character and a nice bloke, and he will do anything for this squad.
“He has had some downs, but he is a fighter and he always come back.
“You can’t take that away from him, he is a world-class player and he deserved his place in the Lions squad.”