When England made history by beating New Zealand in the autumn, Dylan Hartley experienced it in the same manner as most of us: watching. Speaking to him now, however, he is every bit as aware of what that victory means for England as his teammates who experienced it on the field. “Last year we were a new team and no one expected much from us,” says Hartley. “Then in the autumn we beat the All Blacks and now a lot of people are expecting big things this year.”
Indeed that momentous victory has piled on the pressure. People are talking about England as one of the favourites to win the championship, but imagine how different it would be had they lost that game? For all their talk of seeing improvements in the games beforehand, 3 losses to the Southern Hemisphere superpowers would have left them in a similar situation to Wales. Fairly or otherwise, not many people are expecting them to do well.
Hartley is under no illusions as to how important the All Blacks game was. “It gave us a good boost, and the confidence that we are going in the right direction. The mood in the camp is very good; we’ve had a really good week up in Leeds, getting into England mode again.”
The real test now is to ensure that that win is not just a flash in the pan. No one in the England camp would ever admit it, but the Scotland game should be a fairly regulation game. With a new coaching set-up and a host of uncapped players in the squad, Scotland almost mirror the England of this time last year. If England play half as well as they did against New Zealand, they will win.
Hartley acknowledges that it was tough to have to watch that game from the stands. “It was difficult, but if you play sport you understand that at some stage you will be injured.” Whilst it will obviously have done wonders for the confidence of those playing, seeing a competitor for his shirt play well has spurred Hartley on to work harder also. “Seeing Tom (Youngs) play well has really kicked me on.”
Youngs certainly did play well, and he has built on that with some storming performances for Leicester in the Heineken Cup. Winning the shirt back won’t be easy, but Hartley has a good chance of coming back into the team now he is fit. Still, it is another selection dilemma that Lancaster will not mind having; and hooker is the latest position to add to what is a growing list in which there is more than one high-quality option.
Interestingly, Hartley openly talks about the bigger picture: the impending home World Cup. “Obviously we’re focussing on the here and now, but the end goal is the world cup. We’ve got to break that down.” By that, one assumes, he means the Six Nations is very much another step down the road that leads to 2015. He does concede, however, that it is important not to get ahead of yourself. “We’re taking it game by game. Scotland is the first game, and we’re looking forward to getting back into it.”
Everyone around the England set-up, Hartley included, say that Lancaster’s cultural revolution has been successfully instilled. Confidence is high, and the England team are happy to be back together again. Whisper it quietly, but English rugby seems to have plenty to be positive about. Ironically, this probably puts more pressure on the team to win against Scotland. And not just win, but win well. After playing with verve and flair against New Zealand, a repeat of the dire win at Murrayfield last year will be seen as a step back. Should they lose, the win against the All Blacks will be all but forgotten.
Dylan Hartley is representing the England team. He is playing rugby’s first ever interactive in-game companion app, the RBS 6 Nations Live Challenge.
The RBS 6 Nations Live Challenge app allows fans to have their say on what will happen ahead of key moments in each game, enabling players to predict the result of penalties or guess where the kick will end up in conversions. And with the new 2.0 version allowing participants to play with their home stadium as the backdrop, and access the collated Twitter views of rugby expert, this year’s app is the best yet.
Available to download for free on iPhone, iPad, and Android, the app activates 40 minutes before each live match.
Go to http://rbs6nationslivechallenge.com/ to download the app for free.