Hartley set to learn fate before Christmas

Dylan Hartley is sent off, Northampton Saints v Leicester Tigers, Aviva Premiership, Franklin's Gardens, Northampton, December 20, 2014 Getty Images

England and Northampton hooker Dylan Hartley is likely to learn the outcome of his latest disciplinary hearing before Christmas.

Northampton look set to mount a robust defence of their captain after he was sent off for elbowing Leicester centre Matt Smith in the face at Franklin's Gardens on Saturday.

Hartley could miss at least the start of England's Six Nations campaign following the latest episode in a career scarred by repeated disciplinary episodes.

The Rugby Football Union has yet to confirm when 28-year-old Hartley's hearing will take place but moves are afoot for it to be held on Tuesday evening, it is understood.

Hartley was handed a 26-week ban for eye-gouging in 2007, and an 11-week suspension for verbally abusing referee Wayne Barnes during the 2013 Aviva Premiership final against Leicester.

That latter ban led to him missing the British & Irish Lions tour of Australia, and RFU disciplinary chiefs could easily take a dim view of his latest indiscretion.

It happened after just 17 minutes of a titanic Premiership east midlands derby that Northampton won 23-19 thanks to substitute Jamie Elliott's 77th-minute try that fly-half Stephen Myler converted from the touchline.

Referee JP Doyle initially seemed happy to award Hartley a yellow card, but television match official Sean Davey urged Doyle to watch further replays, and he responded by sending 61 times-capped Hartley off.

England open their Six Nations campaign against Wales in Cardiff on February 6, and given Hartley's poor record - biting and punching offences also appear on his charge-sheet - another lengthy suspension appears likely.