- Northampton hooker ready for huge pressure at set-piece "from first minute"
- "People become obsessed with experience and what that means. I am not worried at all" – Hartley
Dylan Hartley is adamant that England will have to win the battle up front against France on Sunday to stand any chance of getting their RBS 6 Nations campaign back on track with a victory over Les Bleus.
Speaking at Pennyhill Park yesterday, the Northampton Saints hooker was quick to emphasise the importance of asserting pressure at the set-piece and highlighted the forward play as a pivotal area of the Stade de France showdown.
“They will be coming for us in the tight and will be licking their lips at the prospect of our so-called inexperience,” explained the 25 year-old, who is set to win his 38th Test cap at the weekend. “We have to meet them from the first minute.
“The French love the scrum and if they get ascendancy in that area, the crowd will get behind them and lift the spirits of the team as a whole. We need to be good in the maul and have a strong defence there, too.
“If those two areas are going well, then the rest of the game – the carrying and ruck work – is normally at its best. We need to take them on and I think we are fully equipped to deal with anything.”
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Though France coach Philippe Saint-Andre suggested this week that his side will play a territorial kicking game, and has picked the half-back combination of Julien Dupuy and Lionel Beauxis to reinforce that, Hartley did not seem perturbed.
Indeed, he outlined his confidence in England’s lineout, which was markedly solid during the 19-12 loss to Wales at Twickenham a fortnight ago.
“They can kick the ball if they want,” he said. “That doesn’t change much for us. Our lineout has been fairly decent throughout the campaign and I’d like to think that they would want to put the ball off the field because of the running skills of guys like Ben Foden.
“In Italy and Scotland we struggled with delivery and didn’t get the backs clean ball but during the game against Wales, we did deliver and made some inroads.
“On the flipside, we need to stop them in the same area because if they get clean ball into the hands of powerful players like [Aurelien] Rougerie it will be difficult for us.”
France head into this latest instalment of ‘Le Crunch’ with a vast amount of experience and will boast more caps on their bench (241) than across the entirety of the visitors’ starting XV. However, Hartley finished by playing down the significance of that statistic.
“People become obsessed with experience and what that means,” he added. “The people in this team have played a lot of rugby at a high level – in the Heineken Cup, for example.
“In the first two games, we showed attitude, a great mind set and togetherness. You can’t really coach those things. We won those games away from home and then, against Wales, we ticked all the boxes apart from the result.
“We played a good style of rugby and defended well. It was just a lapse at the end that cost us. In terms of experience, I am not worried at all. We have a good team and are going in the right direction.”