Thursday 12 December 2019

'Villain' Hartley ready to make amends all over again

Dylan Hartley sits in the stands after his red card against Leinster. Photo: Getty Images
Dylan Hartley sits in the stands after his red card against Leinster. Photo: Getty Images
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Many felt the six-week suspension handed out to Dylan Hartley was a little lenient after his cheap, high shot on Sean O'Brien in December but perhaps the last part of the punishment process only happened yesterday for the England captain.

The sight of the hulking hooker squirming under questioning while sitting in his full England kit as he addressed his latest indiscretion was quite something. He'd probably have taken another week or two out of the game to avoid it.

The Northampton Saints star insisted the swinging arm that left O'Brien needing a Head Injury Assessment during their Champions Cup pool game was a result of a technical issue in his game rather than anything malicious, but his horrendous disciplinary record removed the benefit of the doubt from his corner.


Instead, he faced room after room of sceptics at yesterday's Six Nations media launch as he sat alongside Eddie Jones.

The England coach looked like he'd been Hartley's latest victim as he sported a black eye and a large bandage. Jones insisted he'd slipped in the shower, and while he joked about not needing a HIA of his own after the incident, he was far from his usual ebullient self.

The Australian does regular media sit-downs anyway, while this was his captain's first opportunity to address his actions and the subsequent ban. Not that he seemed overly keen on the idea after two months of media attention he brought on himself, but attempted to block out.

"It's irrelevant. What I was doing over the last six weeks looks after itself and puts me in the best possible position to play over the next few weeks," he said, before he returns to England's Vilamoura training base at first light this morning for two final days of intense activity.

"I'm aware and people write stuff. As long as it is fact-based I have no grudge. As soon as it's starts being opinion I might have a grudge to bear.

"But hey ho, you (the media) have jobs and I have a job - which is to keep my tackles at an acceptable height and play within the laws. It is noise and I try not to read into it, but I am aware of what is said.

"Obviously you reflect on things when things like that happen. This is a privileged position to be in, not just to be sat here as captain, but to be involved with the team.

"I've jeopardised that, put the team and myself in a sticky situation and I've had a clear directive from Eddie and the staff of what they expect.

"I've got my head down and all I can do is repay that faith with how I play.

"It is sobering. You realise what is going on and what is at stake. I understood the position that I had put myself and the team in. To be sat back within the team is a privileged position and one I don't take for granted."

Although he has a history of violence on the field, Hartley was insistent that his challenge on O'Brien was a technical fault and he is adamant that it won't be repeated.

'Yes, because I've worked hard on my tackle technique," he said.

"It is something that I needed to clean up and I've given myself a good chance of not having that same issue again. But it is an on-going thing - it is something I have to keep working on.


"Experience is a good thing. Captaincy probably brings the best out of me in terms of my preparation.

"I've never had a year where I've prepared for games like I have. When you put that sort of work in, it gives me confidence, it gives the players confidence, it gives the team confidence, to go and perform, when you've got that clarity.

"We have to continue to leave no stone unturned. The work ethic we've had already this week in camp has been terrific. And we've got two days still to go - last two physical days to get right before a weekend off before it's Test match time. Those last two days will be big for us."

Jones is convinced by his captain, but the scrutiny will continue in the coming weeks as the villain of the Six Nations piece looks to make amends all over again.

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