Hartley keen to take title in style

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Published: Friday 20th March 2015 by The News Editor

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Dylan Hartley’s memories of England’s only RBS 6 Nations success this decade are tainted to the point he does not feel like a title winner.

Only five survivors remain from the team crowned champions in a Dublin hotel four years ago, just hours after the Grand Slam had been snatched away with a 24-8 rout by Ireland.

The celebrations were muted as the euphoria of a precious moment of triumph was overwhelmed by the frustration at having been put to the sword at Lansdowne Road.

While the Grand Slam has eluded England once more – Ireland saw to that in emphatic fashion three weeks ago – Hartley insists lifting the trophy after toppling France at Twickenham on Saturday would balm the spirit.

“If you ask me if I have won the Six Nations, I don’t feel like I have. My medal is in a box at home somewhere,” the Northampton hooker said.

“At the time it felt flat. Maybe until the day we do the Grand Slam it probably won’t feel the same either. There is always that feeling hanging over.

“Dublin didn’t feel like any kind of victory. We couldn’t even come away saying that we’d played well. It was disappointing and just a bad day all round.

“We won the title a few years ago in Dublin, but doing it at home on Saturday would be lovely.

“It’s about timing as well – this team needs to win something before the World Cup and we’ve put that pressure on ourselves.

“From the outset of the tournament we said we wanted to win it. I don’t think there’s any shame in saying that.”

Favourites England enter the climactic day of the Six Nations with a points advantage of plus four, but it is only once the results from Wales’ visit to Italy and Ireland’s trip to Scotland are known that the true target awaiting at Twickenham will become clear.

“We’ve already had the disappointment of missing out on the Grand Slam but our fate is kind of in our hands,” Hartley said.

“When people talk about scoring lots of points, they confuse that with people like Jonathan Joseph having lots of the ball with all the sidesteps, breaks and no-look passes.

“In reality it’s all about pressure and playing the ball in the right parts of the field and applying pressure to the French.

“If I was the French coming to this game I’d be thinking about how England want to score all these points and perhaps make it a set-piece game and slow it down.”

Hartley insists the moments before the culmination of a gruelling seven-week campaign will be notable more for the clarity of the final orders than any need to crank up aggression levels for the renewal of ferocious rivalry.

“Gone are the days of head-banging and punching holes in walls. James Haskell does a bit of shadow-boxing in the corner and I saw him crush a paper cup one time as well (mass guffaw),” Hartley said.

“Sport and rugby nowadays is so analytical. It is broken down to clear messages. That is the last time it will be nice and calm.

“When you get out, there are anthems, a game, refs, collisions, fights, there is everything so that is the last time to get clear and concise messages across. It is quite calm in the changing room.”

Hartley continues at hooker after holding off the challenge of Tom Youngs, who remains on the bench, in what has been a mixed Six Nations for the Northampton captain.

Concerns have been raised that Hartley’s combative edge has been dulled by his repeated brushes with the disciplinary authorities and the front row admits he has become a more thoughtful player.

“This whole campaign for me has been about staying under the radar. I have been trying to focus on my rugby and so far it has been going well,” he said.

“I am not making good headlines but I am not making bad ones either. I am just quietly going about my business and enjoying it.

“I am more conscious of playing the game, doing my job. I am constantly thinking about it, constantly thinking about how the referee is seeing me, how he is viewing my actions, how I am carrying myself.

“There is a lot riding on it. I would rather pack my smile and my joie de vivre to one side and get on with it.”

Published: Friday 20th March 2015 by The News Editor

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