Argentina v England, Salta, June 13
Hartley tired of wind-up merchants
June 11, 2009
England hooker Dylan Hartley is tired of being targeted by opponents © Getty Images
England hooker Dylan Hartley is tired of his reputation as a troublemaker, and admitted that being targeted by opponents hoping to exploit his apparent short fuse has become annoying.
Hartley copped a six-month ban after being found guilty of eye-gouging Wasps duo James Haskell and Johnny O'Connor during a Premiership match two seasons ago, but has come back brighter in a successful season with Northampton.
So far this year he has lifted the European Challenge Cup and will be playing Heineken Cup rugby next season, and also secured his first Test start for England against Argentina at Old Trafford last weekend. He has retained his place for the return fixture in Salta this weekend, reward for some tireless performances.
"People tried in the past to wind me and they still do. I'd say I get targeted individually and I get annoyed with it," he said. "I went through a stage after my ban thinking 'people are going to come for me' and I prepared myself for it. But the ban happened over two years ago. It's tiring now.
"If anything I brought it on myself and it's all part of maturing. It's pleasing to look back and see how I've overcome it. I wouldn't be playing for England now if I was a liability.
"People have said I have a bad temperament but maybe I just do things a little too enthusiastically - for example a flying arm that may look bad when my intention wasn't bad. I don't really want to hurt anyone but sometimes things looked bad. It can be frustrating when people see you in the wrong light.
"It was obvious that to progress I had to concentrate on rugby rather than going out to get at someone, start a fight or throw a cheap shot here or there. The game's tough enough as it is. I've focused on my role on the pitch. The maturity has come with age. I'm not a young kid anymore. I'm not trying to make a name for myself in the wrong way. "That comes with playing a lot of rugby and getting older. I'm only 23 but at Saints I'm considered a senior player. I've got to set an example to the others."
A Kiwi by birth, Hartley has taken his opportunity with England after arriving in the country on a gap year. His former Saints team-mate Steve Thompson and Leicester's George Chuter have failed to budge him from the hooker's jersey this summer as Hartley reaps the reward of his efforts on the training field.
"There have always been question marks over my set-piece ability and that probably held me back with England," he said. "Thus far I've had a consistent season at Northampton where I've played alongside Euan Murray, so my scrummaging has come on. "I don't have a problem at the line-out any more. I used to dread the ball being kicked out but now it doesn't faze me. I'm confident in my ability. I've drilled it so much now that I don't really think about it as much. Practice and repetition got me there."