Northampton captain Dylan Hartley has been handed an 11-week ban after being found guilty of verbally abusing a match official in yesterday's Aviva Premiership final.

Hartley was sent off for allegedly calling referee Wayne Barnes a "f****** cheat" just before half-time in Leicester's 37-17 victory at Twickenham.

The Rugby Football Union today confirmed the suspension rules Hartley out of the British and Irish Lions tour of Australia, with Ireland's Rory Best now favourite for a call-up.

Hartley has the right of appeal.

Hartley pleaded not guilty at the hearing, which was held at the Epsom Downs Holiday Inn.

The England international argued after the match, via Northampton director of rugby Jim Mallinder, that his comments had been aimed at Leicester hooker Tom Youngs after a scrum had collapsed and the Tigers had been awarded a penalty.

Two minutes before that incident, Barnes had warned Hartley he would take action if the player made any further comments the official felt were directed at him.

The three-man disciplinary panel, chaired by Judge Jeff Blackett, found Hartley guilty of a mid-range offence. He is free to play again on 1 September.

The suspension covers the Lions tour and three pre-season friendlies for Northampton.

Judge Blackett said: "We cannot get around the fact that Wayne Barnes was certain that Mr Hartley's comments were directed at him.

"Wayne Barnes said that if he had had any doubt in his mind, then he would have given the player the benefit of the doubt.

"In terms of sanction, calling a referee a cheat is an attack on his integrity and contrary to the core values of rugby and therefore we have taken a serious view and provided a serious sanction."