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(Reuters) - Dylan Hartley's exemplary leadership of England over the last year should be taken into account when coach Eddie Jones decides whether he should retain the captaincy after the third dismissal of his career, RFU chief Ian Ritchie has said.
The New Zealand-born hooker was shown a straight red card for a swinging arm tackle on Ireland flanker Sean O'Brien while playing for Northampton against Leinster in the European Champions Cup last Friday.
Hartley, who has a lengthy disciplinary record, faces a long spell on the sidelines but Ritchie thinks his part in England's resurgence over the last year needs to be taken into account when it comes to considering his leadership position.
"Dylan has clearly played a fantastic part in captaining the team, on and off the pitch, just to be clear," Ritchie told London's Daily Telegraph.
"His leadership credentials are very strong. He's made a huge contribution, as Eddie would say.
"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 and I think we should be supportive of that."
Hartley was omitted from the England squad for last year's World Cup because of a ban for head-butting and has previously served bans totalling 54 weeks for offences including eye-gouging, biting and verbally abusing referees.
Australian Jones handed him the captaincy when he took over as coach in the wake of England's humiliating exit from the World Cup and Hartley has been an integral part of a team that won all 13 tests in 2016.
Hartley's leadership of England had also inevitably brought him into discussions about the captaincy of Warren Gatland's British and Irish Lions squad for next year's tour of New Zealand.
Ritchie is obviously more concerned about England and who will lead them into the defence of their title in the Six Nations, the start of which Hartley could miss depending on the length of his ban.
"If he's eligible for selection it's ultimately a matter for Eddie, but we should recognise and support all that Dylan has done in the last 12 months," Ritchie added.
"It is primarily a matter for Eddie and if you look back over it, Eddie's judgement has been really good. We should recognise that and I'm sure we will."
Reporting by Shravanth Vijayakumar in Bengaluru, editing by Nick Mulvenney