- No room for complacency against Italy
- Build on winning platform
Dylan Hartley says unbeaten England have banished talk of a Grand Slam decider with Wales, not because the potential does not excite them, but because it is disrespectful to the Italy side who come to Twickenham Stadium on March 10.
England made it three wins from three after Manu Tuilagi’s second-half try secured a hard fought 23-13 victory over France last Saturday and now have a weekend off before hosting the Italians.
Some sections of the media are already billing the trip to the Millennium Stadium on March 16 as the make-or-break fixture but Hartley said that it does not pay the necessary respect to the abrasive qualities Italy possess.
The 26-year-old, who was part of the team that edged past Italy in snow-clad Rome last year, said: “That’s hugely disrespectful, we already seen them turn over France and early on against Scotland and Wales they’ve proven to be tough.
“What we’ve got to focus on is performance when we play against Italy, if we perform well we’ll win the game. I would’ve liked to have done a bit more attacking against France, it seemed to come down to defence again, and maybe against Italy we’ll get the chance to attack a bit more but we’ve got to be respectful because certainly up front they’re a strong pack of forwards.”
Hartley played 51 minutes in the victory over France and highlighted the fine margins and key moments that turned the game for England before they sealed the win with two Toby Flood penalties in the 73rd and 76th minutes. “Early on, they took it to us, but we did say earlier in the week that it was about playing for 80 minutes, and around the 65th minute, Dan Cole got a tighthead up and we got a penalty from the scrum.
“That could have been a bit of a turning point for us because if we’d conceded there, they would have kicked three points. So yeah, I think the scrum came good for us and it was a matter of sticking to it and working hard.”
The set piece proved a real battleground as the French, in particular flanker Yannick Nyanga, managed to disrupt England's line out at different periods in the match before the home side eventually gained the upper hand as the second half wore on.
“We lost three lineouts but they’re a very good set piece team. Upfront, the opening 40 minutes weren’t the best for us but we stuck at it and it came good for us in the end; we won some good ball.”
Even with three wins under their belts, the Northampton Saints hooker believes there is room to improve: “We’re all professional and we all want to get better and personally, I look at my game and there are things I want to get better at.
“We'll enjoy it [the win], but it’s also a good thing that we’re not punching the roof and celebrating.”