England hooker Dylan Hartley has been banned for a fifth time at senior level but has been handed an RBS 6 Nations reprieve after receiving a three-week ban for his red card for elbowing Leicester centre Matt Smith.

The England hooker, who has been suspended in the past after incidents involving Irish players Rory Best, Stephen Ferris and Johnny O'Connor, pleaded guilty to the charge of striking in a disciplinary hearing held via conference call on Tuesday evening.

A ban of six weeks or more would have jeopardised both Hartley's Six Nations chances and his future Test career in light of a previous disciplinary rap sheet including eye-gouging, biting, punching and swearing.

England head coach Stuart Lancaster had vowed Hartley was in the "last-chance saloon" after his red card for swearing at referee Wayne Barnes during the 2013 Aviva Premiership final.

That dismissal led to an 11-week suspension that cost Hartley his place on the summer's British and Irish Lions tour to Australia.

Lancaster was also said to be furious with Hartley for conceding a cheap yellow card in the autumn Test defeat to South Africa.

Any heavy sanction following Saturday's red card in the Premiership East Midlands derby clash with Leicester would have put Hartley's long-term England career at serious risk.