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Dylan Hartley set to play in Six Nations after receiving three-week ban

England hooker Dylan Hartley is free to play in the Six Nations after receiving a three-week ban for elbowing Leicester Tigers' Matt Smith.

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Hartley was sent off early in Northampton Saints' 23-19 Premiership victory over the Tigers last Saturday, after powerfully clearing Smith at a ruck.

The incident led to a brief fracas between the two opposing teams and, after a long consultation with television match official Sean Davey, match referee JP Doyle brandished a red card.

Initially there were fears that Hartley's misdemeanour could lead to a ban that would see him miss the Six Nations.

However, England coach Stuart Lancaster was handed a huge boost with Hartley receiving a three-week ban on Tuesday - meaning he is free to play from January 12, with England starting their Six Nations campaign in Wales on February 6.

A statement on the official Premiership website read: "Hartley, who was sent off in the Aviva Premiership match between Northampton Saints and Leicester Tigers for striking Matt Smith with his elbow, contrary to Law 10.4[a], is banned from today until January 11, 2015. He can play again on January 12.

"The Northampton Saints hooker pleaded guilty and the case was heard via conference call by Jeremy Summers, sitting as a sole Judicial Officer.

"Judicial Officer Summers added: "The sanction reflects the low end entry point of the offence, which carries a two-week tariff.

"The entry point was aggravated having regard to Dylan's previous record and a week was taken off to reflect mitigating circumstances.

"As such the sanction reflects the player's record rather than the seriousness of the offence itself."

Hartley previously missed the British and Irish Lions' tour of Australia after abusing referee Wayne Barnes in the 2013 Premiership final, also against Leicester, while he has previously been cited for eye gouging.

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