- Hartley sets sights on Dunedin involvement
- Northampton Saints skipper draws line under Premiership success
It is barely a week since Dylan Hartley arrived in New Zealand after securing domestic glory with Northampton Saints, but the hooker has fixed his focus on doing everything possible to help England win the remaining two Tests against the All Blacks.
Following a two-month lay-off due to a shoulder injury he picked up back in March during a 22-16 defeat to Leicester Tigers, Hartley only returned to club duty as a replacement in last month’s epic Aviva Premiership final victory over Saracens.
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However, while admitting it felt “weird” to join a squad that was preparing for Saturday’s first Test, the 28 year-old has switched into international mode. Having watched from the Eden Park stands as a brave England were eventually ousted 20-15, he feels strong and fresh.
And, while praising Bath Rugby’s Rob Webber for an outstanding individual display that included a 100 per cent return from 13 lineouts, Hartley seemed keen to challenge for involvement this weekend in Dunedin.
“I’ve kind of drawn a line under the Premiership season,” said the Rotorua-born Saint, who was on the field as the East Midlands outfit secure Premiership silverware with Alex Waller’s last-gasp try. “It was very nice to win it but this is a different challenge altogether now.
“We pushed ourselves really hard on Saturday night and came up short so now we have two massive Test matches and a midweek game [against Canterbury Crusaders] where some of the lads can push for starting spots.
“We’ve reviewed this morning and looked at what we need to work on [from the weekend]. What we did do well was front up. At set-piece we challenged the All Blacks.
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“Defensively we were very sound as well and in attack we kept our shape, making a lot of line-breaks. We’ve got to be more clinical when we make these line-breaks and come away with points.
“This weekend is a different challenge altogether. Both teams might have been feeling a bit rusty [at Eden Park] so you can expect both teams to turn it up this weekend.”
With all the experience and know-how of a 55-cap veteran, Hartley continued by stressing that England are very well-placed when it comes to the “bigger picture” of squad depth ahead of Rugby World Cup 2015.
As one of the leadership figures in Stuart Lancaster’s set-up – and a prominent lieutenant under Chris Robshaw over the recent RBS 6 Nations – he is also a key driver of standards around the camp.
With that in mind, it was little surprise that Hartley finished reinforced the importance of maintaining concentration throughout Saturday’s encounter at Forsyth Barr Stadium.
“[The loss in Auckland] was just proof that you have to play for 80 minutes until the last play of the game.
“That’s why New Zealand are number one – in the 78th minute they score to win the game. We’ve got to be better and run with them for 80 minutes this weekend knowing that the intensity will be up a notch.”