New Zealand v England, 2nd Test
Hartley admits Webber's in pole position
Tom Hamilton in Auckland
June 9, 2014
Dylan Hartley says his shoulder is not giving him any 'gyp' but it may not be enough to start the second Test © Getty Images
Dylan Hartley is desperate to play the All Blacks in the country of his birth but admits Rob Webber is the favourite to start Saturday's match in Dunedin after an impressive performance in the first Test.
Hartley watched on from the Eden Park stands, with more than a hint of jet lag, as Webber hit all his lineouts and did well throughout. It would now be hard for Stuart Lancaster to drop the Bath man after his impressive showing, but the dilemma is that Hartley missed the match through no fault of his own.
Hartley, who was first choice throughout the Six Nations, has spent much of the last six weeks on the sidelines due to a shoulder injury but returned in time to play the Premiership finale, a match which saw him ruled out of the first Test in New Zealand due to fixture congestion.
It is a frustrating experience for Hartley but he is looking to keep on putting the pressure on Webber in training and if he gets his chance on Saturday.
"Having credit in the bank is good, but when another fella plays well the week before... I won't feel hard done by if Rob starts and I miss out. That's the way it works," Hartley said. "I understand that and if it was the other way around I'd expect it as well. It's all about the team.
"Me and Tom Youngs have had it for two years now. You slip up, you give the other guy an opportunity. In my case, slipping up was having to stay behind and play in the Premiership final.
"Rob took his opportunity, played well and I wouldn't be surprised if the coaches stuck with him. He stepped up. I've said it before, you just bide your time and wait for an opportunity and when it comes, you take it."
If he is named on the bench this weekend, he hopes to get the nod from the outset in Hamilton in front of his watching family who hail from Rotorua. Hartley added: "I toured in 2008 as first choice hooker but was only 21 at the time and didn't actually play.
"I really want to play this time. I've played the All Blacks before, but only at Twickenham. I'd like to give a good account of myself in front of friends and family who don't get to see me play. I'd like to leave the country with my head held high."
England drew plenty of plaudits for their first Test performance though Hartley admitted the team were "kicking themselves" for not coming away with at least a draw. But there were some reports suggesting England were deliberately slowing down lineouts and scrums in an orchestrated "go-slow" strategy to conserve energy.
While Mike Catt straight-batted that question when asked by the media on Monday, Hartley rubbished the notion.
"We were very competitive and I don't think we played a slow game. We made more line-breaks than them," he said. "Why would we want to slow down the game? Gone are the days of the stereotypes of a big, lazy English forward pack that relies on the scrum and maul.
"We're not that forward pack any more, we're a dynamic pack. We've got variation in our game, we've got ball-carriers, we've got handlers. Why would we slow down a line-out? Maybe we would have a huddle beforehand to get clarity on the call, but it's not about slowing things - especially when we are chasing the game."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.