Dylan Hartley: Uncertain Future and Troubled Past

It wasn’t too long ago that many pundits were praising Dylan Hartley for the improvements he had made to his temperament, whilst still being able to play with his characteristic passion and determination. A lot can change in a week however, and a wholly unacceptable incident at Twickenham on Saturday has raised far more questions than answers in regards to the hooker and his long-term future with England, not to mention his withdrawal from the Lions squad soon to tour Australia.

This is far from Hartley’s first indiscretion, with an unfavourable disciplinary record reaching back to 2007, and involving some serious incidents, including his first offence, a 26-week ban for eye-gouging both James Haskell and Jonny O’Connor. There was then a fairly uncontroversial period for Hartley, who went on to make his England debut, become Northampton captain, and develop into one of the top hookers in world rugby. That being said, the fire that he plays with has always had him walking a thin line between what is acceptable and what isn’t on the rugby pitch.

This ‘quiet’ period did not last, however, and in March 2012 Hartley was banned for eight weeks after biting Stephen Ferris in a Six Nations match against Ireland, before also being banned for two weeks in December, this time for punching – slightly ironically – Rory Best, who now replaces him in the Lions touring party. Sandwiched in between these two incidents however, was a solitary England appearance as captain, during England’s summer tour of South Africa, where Hartley was yellow-carded.

Questions now abound over the future of Hartley at international level. The incident at Twickenham, where Hartley called referee Wayne Barnes a ‘f—— cheat’, has resulted in an 11-week ban, and even led Lions head coach Warren Gatland to describe the incident as ‘going to the edge of the cliff and jumping off’. Hartley’s Lions dream is over, at least for the next four years, and so likely are his ambitions to captain England on a more regular basis. With some sections of the media unconvinced by Chris Robshaw’s long-term viability as an England starter, and therefore his place as captain, Hartley had been favoured by some as his successor. Arguably, Hartley’s past infringements would have made him a risky and controversial choice, but with his latest misdemeanour, those calls have already all but faded away.

His place as Northampton captain is likely safe, with Jim Mallinder supporting the player following the incident, and publicly stating that he also believes Hartley’s comment was directed at opposite number Tom Youngs. Hartley’s place within the England team may be less secure however, having already lost his starting place to the aforementioned Youngs in this year’s Six Nations campaign. Although Hartley’s behaviour should in no way be advocated, he is a very skilled player, and threw more successful lineouts (at a success rate of 88%) than any other hooker in the Premiership, and alongside Youngs potentially provides England with one of the best one-two punches at the position in world rugby.

Hartley’s future with England could, in part, be answered by the performances of Rob Webber and Rob Buchanan on England’s summer tour of Argentina, particularly if the pair can perform to a standard which Lancaster believes will challenge Youngs for the England number two shirt. The RFU and Northampton will both be keen to help Hartley curb his temperament on the pitch, but if other players are ready to step up and take over his role, England especially may say enough is enough, and start a new, less controversial chapter.

by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)

20 thoughts on “Dylan Hartley: Uncertain Future and Troubled Past

  1. Lancaster will be bitterly disappointed, considering the new look England he is trying so desperately to forge.

    I can see Rob Webber overtaking Hartley within the next few months, with Youngs having a good Lions Tour and Hartley slowly being phased out. His attitude and record is abysmal, and there is no way he should ever be considered for the England captaincy if he continues to be such a catastrophic idiot with his mouth on the rugby pitch.

    It will be at least a year before his credentials can be considered clean again, and that is providing he keeps his nose clean.

    1. Totally agree and Hartley deserves to have the book thrown at him but just as a point of balance there is another player of questionable temperament called Cian Healy who, maybe hasn’t the track record of Hartley but really got away with that leg breaker attempt on Dan Cole against England in the Six Nations, yes he got three weeks suspended but in the end in terms of games the ban didn’t touch the sides.

      Now i’m not defending Hartley and he fully deserves the 11 week ban as there is no room for such disripute in our game but surely the deliberate attempt to break a fellow professionals leg and end their career should attract a simular ban if not longer?

      1. mr B, its a fair point regarding Healy. after all, Calum Clark received a 32-week ban for breaking Rob Hawkins’ arm.

        I think the problem (once again) with the the way disciplinary action works in rugby is the success/completion of an act. i always refer back to an incident involving BOD when this topic comes up. BOD once threw a punch at Chris Henry, but Henry dodged the punch. BOD was not carded/banned or even cited for it. this is because the laws of rugby do not take into account intent, simply completed the act.

        another point though, at the time of Healy’s ban it was quite well accepted that the disciplinary system was a bit of a joke (some very lenient bans/punishments handed out – O’Gara kick and Flood spear come to mind). so i actually think that an 11-week ban for Hartley shows that the system is getting back to normal. at least i hope it is, and this isnt just an exception, because they decided to make an example out of Hartley, to prove that a ref can’t be treated like that. that would be silly.

        1. Also to consider is that your disciplinary history is taken into account quite strongly, which obviously increased Hartleys ban considerably.

          I think if you look at Hartleys ban, it is fair. But then I agree that Healys was far too short.

          It is also an interesting point of the intent vs success of an act. I understand that punching someone is worse than trying to punch someone, but should they look at intent more closely in the future?

  2. I indicated as much earlier in another post. After watching Webber’s performance on Sunday for England (as captain), I think he may indeed at least leapfrog Hartley. With Webber, Youngs and Buchanan (as well as other younger players) all playing well, and having a better disciplinary record, I think Sl will be thinking the same. SL has been waiting for Webber to get some good form and give him an opportunity. He knows him from his Leeds days, and knows him better then he does Hartley. I think there enough options to work with that Hartley can be put aside, as he clearly hasn’t learnt his lesson.

    I also wonder if Mallinder needs to have a good long look at the discipline within his team. 15 yellows and one red in a season is a pretty poor record. But if you’re captain has a poor a record as Hartley, maybe other members of the team think it’s ok to follow suit.

    1. I disagree with this whole idea that SL knows him from his Leeds days and therefore should get a look in. It seems that Clarke in particularly benefits from this. And now Myall is going to Argentina over Kitchener, which to me is a crazy call. Then I head that SL knows Myall from his Leeds days. So what!? Surely he is the England coach, and should pick the best English players?

      I am not saying that he should pick no players with a Leeds background, but it is starting to become questionable. Same with Webber, has he had a great season? Not really, he has been injured all year. Again, I am not criticizing Webber, he is a good player, and played well on Sunday. But this whole, SL knows him from his Leeds days thing surely can have nothing to do with his selection?

      1. I agree, that should not benefit any player. But Webber has been on good form since returning from injury, and I think because SL knows him, and knows his capabilities as a leader, he chose him as captain for that match. There are a lot of players who came through England age groups that SL has coached before. As you mention Clark is another one. But again since returning from his ban, and from injury he has been playing well.

        I agree about Kitchener though. Don’t know much about Myall, but Kitchener should be on the tour.

      2. I agree entirely. Care seems immune no matter how poorly he plays, ano Leeds alumni. As is Burrell I think. It is a worry. Still acts of God/ karma appear to be preventing callum clarke from ever playing for eng. Take a hint stu.

        1. Forgot about Burrell as well, who came in over the likes of Daly.

          I don’t want to question this too much, but it keeps coming up and it may be a concern.

          It doesn’t apply to all the ex-Leeds players of course, but I certainly think its fair to say that if he has a 50/50ish decision to make, he sides with the Leeds guy as he knows him better.

          1. i agree, the leeds conncetion is a strong one. and it is also one that SL regularly tips a nod too, i recall him using it for at least Clark, Webber, Care and Burrell.

            However, all of them have been playing pretty well, so i would say that they have warranted selection (although i agree that guys like Kitchener and Daly should have had the call first)

            on the Burrell over Daly selection, i think that they chose Burrell as a more of a like-for-like replacement to Tomkins, so that is probably the reasoning.

            Another lot of selections that had me going was all of the Sarries selections. with Andy Farrell having come from the club, it wasnt a huge surprise that Mako, Botha, Farrell, Barritt, Strettle, Ashton and Goode were selected. Then they added the likes of Tomkins and Wigglesworth for this tour.

            Most of these names have warranted consideration, but i think that former Leeds and current Sarries players do win out on the 50/50 calls.
            Personally i dont think that Goode or Ashton should have played in the 6Ns, Botha shouldnt have been near the squad, and I would have dropped Barritt and kept 12Ts when Manu returned.

            It seems to be an issue with this england management actually. joseph (Irish) is being selected even though he is out of form – catt is a former irish coach. tom croft was fast tracked back into international rugby (Rowntree was a tiger…)

            Even look at the lions of the english players (now that hartley is gone) there is not a single player who isnt a tiger or a saracen.

            it seems that the english coaches are not sure of what nepotism is…

      3. Think there is evidence of bias towards players he’s worked with before (Saxons and Leeds).

        Don’t have an issue with Burrell being selected (was really impressed with his pace and hands on Saturday as well as the power), but not picking Kitchner after you’ve seen him put in that performance is perplexing. Daly certainly made his point though.

        He’s made some inspired selections (e.g. bringing Youngs and Launchbury through, backing Morgan and Parling). But my confidence is a little bit dented by the poor decisions in the 6N (and repeating poor decisions that clearly weren’t working e.g. Wood @ 8)

        Be fascinating to see what happens on the back of the summer tour, if a few of the young guns shine is he going to pick them ahead of favourites.

        1. I agree with you, I am certainly not suggesting that SL has made loads of poor decisions and is useless, in fact far from it. The Leeds thing is just becoming a bit worrying. In general, I think that SL has been pretty good with his decision making. As you rightly point out, Wood at 8 is the obvious one.

          For me, I am hoping that Burns, Twelvetrees and Wade in particular all shine and keep their places as they are the three positions that I was least impressed with during the 6N. I also hope that Foden gets his 15 shirt back, and after his performance on Saturday I am confident he will do.

          With Morgan and Corbisiero to come back into the pack, I actually do not think that there is too much wrong with it; it was the back line that looked more concerning in the 6N.

          1. On the evidence of Sundays game, your wish could come true. Burns, 12T’s and Wade were all good. The player who really surprised me was Yarde. He took his try superbly, and set Burns up for the first one. Was slightly disappointed with Joseph. He just doesn’t offer the things that Tuilagi does (obviously), but I don’t remember him beating any defenders. One good moment of skill to offload deftly for a try in the corner was all that sticks in my mind. With Tuilgai in there Yarde, Wade, May Eastmond, Foden or whoever is in the back line, can expect some good ball to play with.

          2. Agree with you both. especially the fact that we now have a few new options in the backs, which is good.

            the forward have been pretty decent (in terms of depth and options) but the backs have been a worry. for me we need 2-3 players in each position who can step up to do a good job, and then a couple more who could do a decent job, if we want to be a competitor come 2015.

            9. Youngs, Care, Dickson, Simpson
            10. Burns, Farrell, Flood, Ford
            11. Yarde, May
            12. Twelvetrees, Barritt, Eastmond, Burrell
            13. Tuilagi, Tomkins, Daly, Joseph
            14. Wade, Ashton, Strettle
            15. Brown, Foden, Tait, Goode

            Obviously there are other names that could make it (que the Varndell parade) but i have tried to avoid the names of those that we have seen seem to be in the international wilderness.

            I think that the weakest positions (in terms of depth) are wing, 12 (used Eastmond to try and bolster it) and surprisingly 10.

            the problem with 10, for me, is that Flood has never set the world alight. Ford is out of sorts. Farrell has had a real meltdown/loss of form recently and Burns only has 1 cap so far. then there seems to be a gap in talent to Myler. (this excludes Botica and Steenson, as they are- to my knowledge – yet to chose where their allegiance lies). lets hope Cipriani can sort himself out and return to his 08 form to provide another option.

            if 12Ts was unavailable, i would consider Farrell at 12, he will act as a 2nd receiver, has the experience of 10, but isnt required to create as much. overall 12 would probably be a better place for Farrell in the longer term.

  3. On an unrelated point ia anyone getting a little bit concerned over the kiwi domination of international head coaches? Along with their own team NZ now provide the head coaches for Aus, Ire, Wal and Sco? How long will Eng, Fra and SA be able to resist?

    1. The international community is providing a great training ground for All Blacks coaches. Gatland is following Graham Henry’s path almost exactly.

      Also, 3 out of the 4 semi-finalists at the RWC were coached by Kiwis (and the other team wasn’t coached at all!).

  4. I can see Hartley getting the chop for the autumn. Potentially forcing his way back in for the 6N dependent on form and discipline. A 6N fixture, a premiership final and a crucial HC game, his crazy moments are occurring in the big pressure games. There is a trust issue and the only way to earn it back is exemplary behaviour in a Saints shirt when put under pressure (and no doubt targeted)

    At least he’s not longer rattling around the hooker cupboard on his own and we aren’t so reliant on him as we were 2 years ago. I would rather have Webber, Youngs or Buchanan for 80 mins than Hartley for 70 or less.

  5. I really hate to say it but Brighty was right! Said that Hartley would likely end up being wound up on the Lions tour and getting into trouble. I doubt even he expected it this early though!

  6. From the BBC website re the RFU hearing:
    “The RFU also felt Hartley had changed his version of events when he attended the hearing.
    It said: “We believe that he quickly regretted what he had done and that as soon as he left the field of play he told his team management that he had directed the comments to Tom Youngs, who was on the ground after the scrum had collapsed.
    “We observed that this account changed subtly, no doubt after he had examined the DVD footage showing that his eyes were not looking downwards.
    “The version provided to the panel was that he had spoken to Soane Tonga’uiha, who was between him and the referee, about Tom Youngs and then looked down at Youngs.
    “In our view this is not a credible explanation.””
    Basically that is as close as you are going to get to the RFU calling him a liar

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