Dylan Hartley for Steve Thompson is the only change to England’s starting side to take on Australia in the second of the Investec Internationals, and we heard from Martin Johnson and Hartley himself at Pennyhill Park.
Johnson’s tenure at England’s helm has been marked by consistency of selection – and not always in a good way, as we know. However, Hartley’s promotion has been widely welcomed, and Johnno’s stubbornness to make changes suggests that this is likely to be significant as the countdown to the Rugby World Cup continues.
Johnno was clear that Hartley had earned the Number 2 shirt: “I thought Dylan did very well when he came off the bench [against New Zealand]. It’s not a knock on Thommo, but Dylan has forced his way in there.”
“He’s in great form. He missed the summer tour with injury, but he’s come back with huge enthusiasm in his play with Northampton, bringing that energy and that ball carrying.”
There was also a hint that Johnson had the Rugby World Cup in mind, and that Thompson would have a tough job to force his way back into the side ahead of Hartley.
“His set-piece work is getting better all the time as well as he matures as a player, and he’s going to need starts for us in the next year obviously. The more experience he can get, the better.”
Hartley himself was obviously pleased with his selection, and is determined to keep his place between now and September 2011.
“I’m delighted. It’s something I’ve been working towards for three or four months now – my club form has been pretty good.”
“Fair play to the lads in Australia, they won out there and the team had to play last week – I respect that decision. I was very happy with my role at the weekend as an impact sub, and I’m pleased to be rewarded this week with a start.”
“It’s down to me now to start holding my hand up and playing well, because if not I know that Steve will be right on my tail. He’s someone that has played so many times, he’s so consistent and so when he gets a shot he’ll play well. So it’s in my hands.”
“This team is going places. The World Cup is in 11 months’ time. Every game is a stepping stone for us and we just want to keep improving. Winning along the way is important and winning makes team confident, and when you’re confident you win. It’s a good little loop to be in.”
Here is Martin Johnson’s press conference from Pennyhill Park yesterday: