Northampton boss Jim Mallinder believes Dylan Hartley should have received a yellow card instead of being sent-off against Leicester at Franklin’s Gardens on Saturday.
The England hooker, who was shown red after elbowing Tigers centre Matt Smith in the seventeenth minute, had to watch his team’s win.
And the latest offence in Hartley’s troubled disciplinary career could see him miss at least the start of England’s Six Nations campaign.
“It was disappointing,” Mallinder told Press Association Sport.
“Dylan has got to keep his arms down, but he was being held and I don’t know there was any malice in it.
“The nature of the game didn’t justify a red card. I think Smith went down pretty easily, to be honest, which was disappointing.
“It is a tough game. That 80 minutes of rugby was hard, physical, with some great tackles, but I don’t think there was any malice in that. I think JP’s initial reaction of the yellow card would have been the correct decision.”
England start the Six Nations against Wales in Cardiff on February 6, and given Hartley’s record of offences, he could be set for a lengthy suspension.
“It’s a tough game, and Dylan plays to the edge. You wouldn’t change Dylan. He is competitive,” Mallinder added.
“It is a difficult one. I think he should have kept his arms down – we are not saying that what he did was right – but what I am probably saying is that the opposition made it a lot easier, and a yellow card was sufficient.”