"I get this thing in my head, and I basically take your head off" - Dylan Hartley on infamous Sean O'Brien tackle 4 months ago

"I get this thing in my head, and I basically take your head off" - Dylan Hartley on infamous Sean O'Brien tackle

"We showed the footage to everyone working here, earlier, and there was a cheer!"

In his rugby career, Dylan Hartley was suspended on seven different occasions, for a total of 60 weeks.


2007 saw him banned for 26 weeks for 'making contact with the eyes' of Wasps forwards Jonny O'Connor and James Haskell. He had a clean run of it after his return, up to 2012 but ill discipline returned and he got six different suspensions over a four and a half year period.

Hartley, who hung up his boots in 2019, received his final ban in late 2016 when he clotheslined Leinster and Ireland flanker Sean O'Brien. In making that swinging arm reducer, the former England captain left the Ireland star needing on-field treatment from medics.

On the latest episode of JOE UK's House of Rugby [LISTEN from 19:00 below], Hartley was reunited with O'Brien and explained his thought process behind that red card hit.


Dylan Hartley on his red-card tackle on Sean O'Brien

Hartley's last ban emanated from a European Cup defeat to Leinster at Franklin's Gardens. Leinster were leading 20-10 as the game heading towards its final quarter when O'Brien set off on another carry.

Hartley, who was not long off the bench, takes up the tale:


"It's not like I just decided in a game to do something crazy. It was all built up, and something off the field was happening. The incident with you [Sean], for example, I don't justify what I did, but there was a process to why it happened.

"You guys were like pumping us, at home, at Franklin's Gardens. Really proud team, getting done at home and I'm the captain of our club. I'm on the bench as I'd been away [just prior] on international duty.

"I'm on the bench, and we've been told that we're soft, we're not going in hard enough; we're letting Leinster do whatever they want. So I'm building this thing in my head like, 'When I get on, I'm going to make a physical statement. I need to do something big. I need to do something to lift the team.

"Seanie O'Brien, the Leinster talisman gets the ball, and there's my chance. There's my opportunity. Big physical contact. I get this thing in my head, and I basically take your head off with a swinging arm."

It certainly was. Reporting on the collision at the time, I wrote, "It was gruesome, awful stuff and it left O'Brien in a heap."

Dylan Hartley on intent behind O'Brien hit


"But the intent behind what I'm trying to do," Hartley continued, "in my mind is still right."

"It's funny you should say that," Sean O'Brien cuts in, "it might have been something to do with your environment, at the time. Because you had [coaches] Dorian West and Jim Mallinder saying, all week, get this fella, get this fella. Go after these guys, physically. Maybe that is too much for certain lads. You build it up and go overboard.

"Your intent is right, but your execution is completely wrong."

"Oh man," Hartley exclaims, "you're bang on. You always target a No.8 or a big ball-carrier to stop momentum.

"As a captain, you sit in those meetings, listening. I'm not starting the game, but then I'm coming on and I'm thinking, I can do that, and it goes incredibly wrong."

Hartley notes how teams do go out to stick big hits on the oppositions' best players, but the idea is to do it within the rugby laws. On that December evening at Franklin's Gardens, he got it completely wrong. Both he and O'Brien paid a price.