- Dylan Hartley talks about his competition with Tom Youngs
- “No one likes sitting on the pine” says Northampton Saints captain
If you were looking to describe Dylan Hartley in one word, competitive would be a decent start point. It is there unsurprising that while he has admired the remarkable performances of Tom Youngs last autumn, a place on the bench for the RBS 6 Nations opener against Scotland will not satisfy the Northampton Saints captain.
With only two hookers in Stuart Lancaster’s squad, barring injury, both will be involved on a match day but the 26-year-old said: “No one wants to be on the bench, no one likes sitting on the pine. To be involved with England is huge, just being here is huge, but we’re all competitive and everyone wants to start.
“I’m hugely motivated after seeing what the lads did in the autumn and was looking forward coming back in and challenging Tom for his place.”
Youngs was thrust into the starting role for the four QBE Internationals after Hartley injured his knee in the build-up and the Leicester Tigers man excelled, throwing 100 per cent in the line out against Fiji and Australia, completing 11 of 13 against New Zealand and carrying powerfully throughout the series.
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Given the subtext that the 25-year-old converted from an England Under 21 and Premiership centre, his performances in his debut series were all the more startling. But in professional sport there is no time for sentiment, as Hartley explained.
“It’s good for the squad that he’s playing well, competition is always healthy and it’s quietly driving me to get back in the team,” said the 42-cap man.
“He played very well for the whole series and is the last to wear it, so the shirt is his, and all I can do is come in and train well. I’ve got a bit of credit here with the coaches, I’ve been in the group for a while and they know what I can do for them.”
Hartley has been in this position before, battling with Steve Thompson for the No.2 shirt at Rugby World Cup 2011. After starting 9 of the previous 10 matches, world cup winner Thompson got the nod for the tournament opener, ironically also against Scotland.
Recalling how he reacted in that situation illuminates Hartley’s positive outlook and attitude to training, which is to never feel sorry for himself.
“When you’re injured or benched or not involved it’s a good time to reflect, it makes you appreciate your time wearing the rose and it makes you want to work even harder to earn the shirt back.
“Reflection is good, you need to review what you’re doing. A lot of people in sports teams probably get the ‘poor old me syndrome’ and it’s easy to criticise, sit back and say “why am I not being picked”. But I think that’s what you’ve got to ask yourself, 'why am I not playing' and then you can go away, work hard and show the coaches that I’m still here.”
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England are blessed with two hookers who pride themselves on the physical side of the game and Hartley feels the side made huge strides forward in that respect last autumn.
But he is well aware that England will be targeted after a record-breaking victory over the world champions, especially with a Scotland side who always raise their game to face the Auld Enemy first up on February 2 at Twickenham.
He added: “Talking to opposition players after the autumn games they definitely felt it [our physicality] and to finish on the high against the All Blacks, that came from physical dominance. We played a good game of rugby, but the foundations of that were being physical. Coming into the Six Nations if we can carry that sort of intensity we should put ourselves in a good position.
“We’ve got to be aware that there is a target on our backs after a result like that. We don’t want to be a one-off team and just perform once. We need to back that up, and be convincing with it as well.”