Hartley's cooldown has helped England heat up

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

The transformation of England captain Dylan Hartley over the past six months has almost proven a microcosm of his country’s rugby regeneration.

When Hartley was appointed skipper, ahead of the 2016 Six Nations campaign, it was hard to see the reasons for it.

The 30-year-old has spent a cumulative 54 weeks on the sideline for disciplinary actions during his rugby career.

Back then newly installed head coach Eddie Jones said he hoped and prayed that Hartley wouldn’t repeat the mistakes that put him out of so many matches, and so far he hasn’t.

Jones joked this week that people warmed to Hartley, except in certain situations.

'He's a blokey bloke. He's a knockabout sort of bloke,' Jones said.

'He's a relationship builder. He probably doesn't build too many relationships when he bites people.

“But he's the sort of person who gets on well with people, so he's got a knack of knowing when to speak to the referee, knowing when not to speak to the referee and not being at the referee all the time.”

Dylan Hartley and Eddie Jones have built a strong bond. Photo: Getty ImagesHis fiery past has not faded and yet it is Hartley who has provided a cool head for his team in a pivotal and historic series for England.

Injured flanker James Haskell said Hartley’s appointment was never truly a controversial one, with his skipper harbouring the right streak of “edge” that a leader needs.

“I think it's funny when people think it's a controversial decision because I think the more I look at it, the best sportsmen and the best leaders sometimes are people with...anyone who's vanilla is never that successful,” he said.

"Even Tiger Woods showed that.

“Not saying Dyl's got a flawed character but I'm saying a little bit of edge, a little bit of something about you is good.

“It shows that you know both sides of the path and I know from years from listening to the Northampton boys he's always led by example, always run a real tight ship, he's always been a physical character.

Dylan Hartley has won plenty of respect in the past six months. Photo: Getty ImagesIn this run of eight consecutive wins, Haskell said he was most pleased that Hartley had never given any currency to the naysayers.

“I'm just glad that those opening months when people, as they always are, are looking for excuses or reasons why they can say, ‘oh, it was a bad idea,’ and I'm glad that he's come through that," he said.

“He's shown that it doesn't matter what you've done or who you are, that having a bit of edge and a bit of personality and a bit of whatever it might be good or bad can lead a team.”

Hartley has been all business this tour and stressed his desire to maintain the intensity England has shown in the opening two Tests in the last.

With what he rated their most intense session of the season this week, Hartley said he was confident there was no slip in motivation, as a whitewash looms.