Dylan Hartley will be available for England's Six Nations title defence after receiving a six-week suspension for landing a swinging arm on the head of Sean O'Brien.

Hartley was sent off after clashing with O'Brien during Northampton Saints' Champions Cup defeat to Leinster last Friday night.

He faced an independent disciplinary hearing in London today to learn his fate, and they judged that his offence fell into the mid-range category.

Taking into account Hartley's poor disciplinary record, the committee added two weeks to the five-week sanction and then reduced it by one week due to the player's guilty plea.

He'll be free to return to action from Monday, 23 January.

Before this latest red card, Hartley had amassed 54 weeks work of suspensions for offences including biting, gouging and butting and the total for his chequered career now stands at 60 weeks.

Hartley's position of captain of the Grand Slam winners was safe regardless of the outcome of today's hearing, with RFU chief executive Ian Ritchie telling BBC Sport on Tuesday: "I think Dylan's got credit in the bank.

"I think most people would say it's been a fantastic year. We've had 13 wins out of 13 and Dylan has made a huge contribution and he should be allowed to continue that.

"Dylan has clearly played a fantastic part in captaining the team, on and off the pitch just to be clear. His leadership credentials are very strong. He's made a huge contribution.

"So you view all these things in perspective and in perspective one looks at the totality of what he's done and what's happened over the years. I think we should be supportive of that."

Hartley missed the British and Irish Lions tour to Australia in 2013 due to suspension and was omitted from the England squad for last year's World Cup because of a ban for head-butting.

He is among the leading candidates to captain the Lions on next year's tour of New Zealand, along with Ireland hooker Rory Best and Wales lock Alun Wyn Jones.

Eddie Jones' reigning champions host France at Twickenham in their Six Nations opener on Saturday, 4 February. 

RECORD

  • April 2007 - banned for 26 weeks after being cited for eye-gouging Wasps forwards James Haskell and Johnny O'Connor.
  • March 2012 - received an eight-week suspension after being cited for biting the finger of Ireland back row Stephen Ferris while playing for England in a Six Nations game.
  • December 2012 - banned for two weeks after being cited for punching Ulster hooker Rory Best during a Heineken Cup match.
  • May 2013 - sent off for verbally abusing referee Wayne Barnes during the Premiership final against Leicester at Twickenham. Received an 11-week suspension that prevented him from taking his place on the Lions tour to Australia.
  • December 2014 - sent off for elbowing Leicester centre Matt Smith in the face. Banned for three weeks.
  • May 2015 - banned for four weeks after head-butting Saracens' Jamie George in Northampton's 29-24 Aviva Premiership semi-final defeat to Saracens. As a direct consequence, England ruled Hartley out of their World Cup plans.
  • December 2016 - sent off for striking Leinster flanker Sean O'Brien with a swinging arm. Suspended for six weeks.