England v Italy, Six Nations, Twickenham, February 12
Hartley pleased to silence doubters
ESPNscrum Staff
February 11, 2011
England front row coach Graham Rowntree puts his charges through their paces, England training session, Twickenham Stadium, London, England, February 11, 2011
Dylan Hartley (centre) and his fellow front-rowers are put through their paces ahead of Saturday's clash with Italy © Getty Images

England hooker Dylan Hartley has admitted that he was satisfied by the way in which he "answered a few critics" with his stellar performance in last weekend's Six Nations win over Wales.

The lead-up to the Championship opener in Cardiff was overshadowed by disparaging remarks made about Hartley by Wales boss Warren Gatland. However, the Saints hooker was, much to his credit, unaffected by the Kiwi coach's mind games and turned in an assured display in the England front row.

"I contributed against Wales just by doing my job in the team," he told RFU.com ahead of Saturday's clash with Italy. "The hooker is in the team to secure scrummage ball and 100 percent lineout, and I think I answered a few critics last week with my performance.

"For me, this week is about kicking on and just trying to do that same job again. We're certainly up for it this week as it's our first game at home. I don't care what we do as long as we win this weekend in front of the Twickenham crowd."

Hartley is well aware, though, that if England are to make it two wins from two in this year's Championship a Herculean effort from the front-rowers is required, given the strength of the Italian scrum.

"It was emphasis on lineout last week, emphasis on scrum this week. But scrummaging, for me, and I think a lot of other people, in this day is down to mindset as much as it is technique," he said.

"You do analysis and you review other teams, but I think if you turn up with the right mindset and that sense of being up for it, then you're going to be alright.

"But they are a team that pride themselves in that area and we have to take them on where they think they're strongest.

"(Leonard) Ghiraldini and Castro (Martin Castrogiovanni) are good operators - Castro's a talisman for them. And the rest of the backs are very big physical men. It's certainly going to be a challenge for us up front."

England only scraped past the Azzurri this time last year, triumphing 17-12 in Rome, but Hartley believes that Martin Johnson's men have improved greatly in the intervening 12 months.

"We've had a lot of changes since a year ago. We've got a squad now that is a squad; we don't have many changes and we've got the same personnel coming in," he said.

"But from the Italian side of things, they are a difficult team to play against. If you don't have that variety and balance in your game then they can strangle you.

"If you constantly try and take them on up front then they won't back down, so we're certainly going to try and bring some variety and balance to our game this weekend."

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