Dylan Hartley should continue as England captain despite his latest disciplinary issue, according to Rugby Football Union boss Ian Ritchie.
Hooker Hartley, 30, will find out on Wednesday if he will be available for the Six Nations next year after he was sent off for the third time in his career while playing for Northampton.
In total, Hartley has served 54 weeks of suspension during his career.
“I think Dylan’s got credit in the bank,” Ritchie told BBC Sport.
“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.”
Former England head coach Stuart Lancaster dropped Hartley from his 2015 World Cup squad after the player headbutted Saracens’ Jamie George.
But he was reinstated as captain when Eddie Jones succeeded Lancaster in November 2015, and England remain unbeaten under the Australian.
Hartley returned to his club in October, following the autumn internationals, and came on as a replacement in Friday’s 37-10 defeat by Leinster in the European Champions Cup.
But after only six minutes on the pitch he was shown a red card for a swinging arm on Sean O’Brien and will now appear at an independent hearing to find out his punishment.
“Obviously it’s disappointing when he gets sent off but we’ll wait and see what happens,” RFU chief executive Ritchie added.
“If he’s eligible to be in contention for the Six Nations then it’s a matter for Eddie.
“He’s been a great leader and his performances on the pitch, and the way he’s helped Eddie with the team… I think he’s done a fantastic job.
“Ever since Dylan’s been involved in the set-up, he has been the perfect ambassador on and off the pitch.”
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