Warren Gatland
Warren Gatland NZ Herald / Mark Mitchell

Hartley may miss Lions tour of Aus for verbal outburst

THE British and Irish Lions leave London tonight, but English hooker Dylan Hartley might not be on the flight.

Hartley was due to front a RFU disciplinary panel overnight after being sent off for allegedly calling referee Wayne Barnes a "f***ing cheat" while captaining Northampton in the Premiership final defeat by Leicester at Twickenham.

He had been warned about his language by Barnes two minutes before his dismissal.

The referee was heard saying "Please keep your comments to yourself or I may have to deal with it. Do not talk to me like that."

The penalty for verbally abusing a match official ranges from a six-week to 52-week ban.

A ban, even at the lower end of the scale, would see Hartley withdrawn from Warren Gatland's 37-man tour party.

Irishman Rory Best would be a possible beneficiary of any suspension.

Hartley's only hope of salvaging his place on the tour was being able to convince the panel his language was directed at England and Lions teammate, Leicester's Tom Youngs, and not at the ref, something which was backed by other Northampton players.

The Lions pay their first game, against the Barbarians in Hong Kong on Saturday.