Tigers champs after Hartley sees red
England hooker Dylan Hartley could be out of the British and Irish Lions tour to Australia after being sent off in Northampton's 37-17 defeat by Leicester in the English Premiership final at Twickenham on Saturday.
Hooker Hartley saw red when he allegedly accused referee Wayne Barnes of cheating as a fractious match neared half-time and the incident overshadowed Leicester's first title since 2010.
Barnes had previously warned Hartley about inappropriate language but when the Northampton captain apparently accused the official of favouring Leicester he was sent off.
Hartley could be banned for up to a year but will have to wait for the Rugby Union's disciplinary process to kick in. The Lions fly to Hong Kong on Monday and a spokesman for the tourists indicated to reporters at Twickenham that coach Warren Gatland wanted all players to be available for the match in Perth against the Force on June 5, the second of the trip after the first game against the Barbarians in the Far East next week.
Hartley's track record may count against him - he has been banned three times since 2007, twice for gouging - and although the Lions emphasised the matter was out their hands for the time being, any suspension of two weeks or more would rule him out of the entire trip.
The rumpus overshadowed a see-saw match between two local rivals with Leicester bidding to win the title after being runners-up for the last two years.
Leicester director of rugby Richard Cockerill said: "You know how Wayne Barnes referees and we spoke the whole week about discipline because we have been stung in finals with early yellow cards. He likes to be treated with respect.
"In a game as big as this you would imagine Wayne Barnes would be 100 per cent in what he is thinking. I don't want players sent off.
"But Barnes is a very experienced referee, one of the top two or three in the world. That's why he gets these games. There's enough history between Northampton and Leicester to know that discipline is going to be a key part of the game."
Northampton director of rugby Jim Mallinder added: "We don't know what is going on the field. I asked Dylan what he said and he said he was talking to Ben Youngs. There is a lot worse than that going on the field."
This was Leicester's ninth successive Premiership final and they came out of the blocks sharply after spending the time since their semi-final win over Harlequins emphasising how important it was to win the title again.
Toby Flood opened the scoring with a penalty before Niall Morris crossed for Leicester's first try to give them an 8-0 advantage - before Stephen Myler replied with a touch down of his own for Northampton.
Then the fireworks started with England second row Courtney Lawes hitting Flood with a late tackle. The tackle was not high but Flood's head bounced off the turf and off Dan Cole's knee and he was prone on the pitch for five minutes before staggering to his feet.
A second Lawes hit finished Flood's contribution to the game and he was replaced by George Ford who slotted a penalty ahead of a disallowed effort by Ben Foden, who was held up over the line.
Hartley was then warned for talking back to the referee and Soane Tonga'uiha was penalised for an early engagement at the scrum, meaning more points to Leicester as they went to the break 16-5 in front.
The clubs swapped tries shortly after the break with Foden piling over for Northampton before Graham Kitchener ran in for Leicester after being set free by Ben Youngs. There was more to come as Lee Dickson dived over after smart work from Luther Burrell and the gap was narrowed to seven points.
But Tuilagi smashed through the defence to score Leicester's third try and when Vereniki Goneva smashed over the game was up for Northampton.