England
Dylan Hartley ready to prove doubters wrong against Scotland
Tom Hamilton
February 5, 2016

Dylan Hartley is aware of the circus surrounding his appointment as captain and the need to lead by example but says age has made him wise and vows to "cherish" the experience of being England's skipper on Saturday against Scotland.

The Calcutta Cup match, Eddie Jones' Six Nations opener, will give him his 67th cap, although seldom has the spotlight on him been more intense.

However, Hartley has been in the glare of the spotlight before, 54 weeks' worth of suspensions does that. He is dealing with it by comparing the experience of preparing for the Murrayfield Test with how he felt prior to the 2011 Six Nations match against Wales in Cardiff, for his 24th cap.

In the run up, Wales coach Warren Gatland said he expected Hartley to "crack under the pressure" and the hooker answered the pre-match barbs with a fantastic performance.

His mental strength is something he is sure of now; he has learnt not to overthink or play scenes in his mind before games but to deal with them as they come.

"I never prepared for a match so well because I didn't want to be shown up," Hartley said of that 2011 match while contemplating Saturday's challenge. "The spotlight was on me.

"As a hooker, every time you go to the touchline, the spotlight is on you and everyone is watching. That game was a good thing for me to get through and it made me prepare and play well.

"The captaincy thing and the whole media circus, everyone wanting to see me muck up, are making me prepare for this game in a good way. I am prepared."

So what has changed since he appeared against France as a replacement in the 2015 edition of the Six Nations?

"It has been almost a year since I have played [for England]," he said. "As you get older you reflect and get wiser and this is something I am going to cherish."

As the England players walked around Pennyhill Park fulfilling their various media duties on Thursday, the faces and clothing were the same as last year. But there was a feeling that everything was a little different.

From dodging duck muck in Hyde Park during a training session last Saturday, to training in their matchday England kit, much has changed: the gates have been opened on newspaper columns and moderate, social drinks, have been allowed.

Eddie Jones is doing his best to signal a new start while also recognising this team has only reached "midstream".

The lessons from the journey along the 'stream' have been plentiful for Hartley, none less painful than having to miss out on the British & Irish Lions and two World Cups due to suspensions, and maybe the experience has fuelled his determination.

He has already spoken of the importance of being a father and how that, and being the senior statesman in the England side, has changed his outlook.

"I have been playing long enough and played so many games that I don't get provoked. If someone is doing that, they are not focusing on themselves and they are probably going to have a stinker.

"And how do you provoke someone? You can't do anything these days. Everything is pretty well covered via TV and slow motion cameras so I am not worried about that at all."

Jones: Daly and Itoje not yet ready
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The general message on Thursday as the team was confirmed for the Test at Murrayfield was that World Cup disappointments are in the past; the players have a chance to control the team's narrative over the next four years. They will lead the team meeting on Friday morning and Hartley has been charged with delivering the pre-game messages come Saturday afternoon.

Hartley has a been given a lot of responsibility but he has tried to keep things in perspective. "Looking back on where things have gone wrong in the past -- it's maybe because when the games are so big I build something up, so I'm just trying to focus on myself this week," Hartley said. "Naturally the captaincy thing will just happen. First and foremost I have to know my role.

"We've got a light run Friday but the bulk of the work has been done. I'll go back to my room now and look through my notes just to make sure I know the lineouts. I'll just worry about myself then the captaincy thing will naturally come on the day."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.

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