England v Australia, Twickenham, November 13
Hartley ready to front up
November 9, 2010
Dylan Hartley packs down with his fellow front rowers during training © Getty Images
Dylan Hartley has no intention of suppressing aggressive instincts on the pitch after being promoted to England's starting line-up for the Cook Cup showdown with Australia.
The Northampton hooker made a dynamic impact off the bench against New Zealand last weekend, scoring his first Test try in a typically fiesty performance. But Hartley, who also added to an impressive England scrummaging effort, was arguably fortunate to escape being cited for a foream-led challenge on the All Blacks captain Richie McCaw.
It was not the first time Hartley has sailed close to the disciplinary wind - in 2007 he was at the epicentre of a storm after being banned for gouging - but the 24-year-old vowed he would never change.
"If you look at hookers across the game, they are confrontational people. You are in the thick of it so you have got to have an edge about you and it is certainly an aspect of the game I enjoy," said Hartley. "Hookers don't take a backwards step. I don't think you will ever take that away from me. I certainly wouldn't be playing in the front row as a hooker if you did."
Far from being concerned by Hartley's fiery attitude, England manager Martin Johnson has rewarded his performance against the All Blacks with the starting hooker's berth. Steve Thompson filled the jersey on the summer tour of Australia while Hartley nursed a knee injury but the 2003 World Cup winner has returned to the bench for Saturday's clash.
Thompson is joined among the replacements by veteran lock Simon Shaw, who has recovered from a calf injury to replace the unfortunate Gloucester tyro Dave Attwood.
"This is not a gamble. Dylan brings a lot of confrontation energy and that is what we need but he understands it needs to be a force for good and not for being banned," said Johnson. "That incident could have been taken further by the disciplinary people. It is a balance but I like what Dylan brings to us. He did very well when he came on last week. He missed the summer tour with injury but he has come back with a huge amount of enthusiasm. He brings that energy and ball-carrying, his set-piece work is improving all the time and he is maturing as a player."
Hartley believes the captaincy at Northampton has helped that process. "You mature with age and as a player, when you play more games and bigger games, you learn a lot. The captaincy is a responsibility that has helped," he said. "I am certainly enjoying the role. Jim Mallinder and Dorian West obviously have a bit of trust in me to do it and I want to repay that trust by doing my best for the club and the team every week. I know I am not the finished article but that will come with time and bigger games."
England destroyed Australia's scrum in both Tests during the summer and will be expected to hammer home their advantage up front again. Scrum coach Graham Rowntree admitted the easy selection would have been to continue with Thompson at hooker, particularly as he is more experienced at some of the Wallabies' front-row tactics. But Rowntree has been impressed with Hartley's set-piece development and believes he will complete an imposing front-row unit in between Dan Cole and Andrew Sheridan.
"Dylan is a lot more dependable there. It was never really his strength but he has worked hard at it over the last 18 months. He loves scrummaging," said Rowntree. "We are seeing a lot more of a composed Dylan Hartley in the Premiership. His form can't be argued with and he is leading that Northampton team well."
England are acutely aware that the Wallabies found ways to beat them in Perth, New Zealand in Hong Kong and Wales in Cardiff despite losing the scrum battle in all three games. The visitors should have their first-choice front row back in harness to face England, with hooker Stephen Moore set to rejoin props Ben Alexander and Benn Robinson.
"Wales at the weekend were dominant but they still didn't get the result," said Hartley. "The scrum is not just a way to restart the game, it is a way to win games. It is a weapon. Every week you go out to be dominant in the set piece because that is the foundations of how you play the game. If the set-piece is strong you take that into your rucking, your mauling, your carrying.
"The Australians do things differently to the All Blacks. There are things we have identified. We have done more live scrummaging this year, practicing things that opposing teams might try to do at the weekend and dealing with that."
England: B Foden (Northampton); C Ashton (Northampton), M Tindall (Gloucester), S Hape (Bath), M Cueto (Sale); T Flood (Leicester), B Youngs (Leicester); A Sheridan (Sale), D Hartley (Northampton), D Cole (Leicester), C Lawes (Northampton), T Palmer (Stade Francais), T Croft (Leicester), L Moody (Bath, capt), N Easter (Harlequins).
Replacements: S Thompson (Leeds), D Wilson (Bath), S Shaw (Wasps), H Fourie (Leeds), D Care (Harlequins), C Hodgson (Sale), D Armitage (London Irish).
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