Hart­ley play­ing for Eng­land place in Ge­orge show­down

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - RUGBY - PHILIP DUN­CAN

DY­LAN Hart­ley ac­cepts that the onus is on him to prove he is wor­thy of the Eng­land cap­taincy on the eve of his duel with in­ter­na­tional ri­val Jamie Ge­orge. Northampton hooker Hart­ley will line up against Ge­orge in the open­ing round of Cham­pi­ons Cup ac­tion when Sara­cens visit Franklin’s Gar­dens to­day.

Hart­ley, 31, is the in­cum­bent Eng­land cap­tain, but Ge­orge, who ear­lier this week signed a new long-term con­tract with the reign­ing Euro­pean cham­pi­ons and cur­rent Aviva Premiership lead­ers, started all three Tests for the Lions in New Zealand this sum­mer. Eng­land head coach Ed­die Jones, how­ever, has stayed com­mit­ted to Hart­ley, with all of Ge­orge’s 17 Eng­land caps com­ing from the bench.

“If I play well for my club, as an as­pir­ing Eng­land player would, then I give my­self a good shot,” said Hart­ley when asked about his Eng­land prospects.

“Ed­die has made it clear that he is not pick­ing play­ers be­cause of what they have done. It needs to be earned.

“I am an as­pir­ing Eng­land player, and an as­pir­ing Eng­land cap­tain, and if it is on any­one, it is on me to make an ex­am­ple. I need to be play­ing well. That is as ex­pected. Noth­ing comes easy and every­thing is earned, so I wouldn’t ex­pect it any other way.”

Hart­ley re­turned to ac­tion in Northampton’s de­feat at Glouces­ter last week­end af­ter miss­ing three matches with a hand in­jury. He came through the match un­scathed, and will go head to head with Ge­orge, five years his ju­nior, to­day.

“It is not about me and him,” Hart­ley said. “Look, we have got a good work­ing re­la­tion­ship and again I look for­ward to the chal­lenge. We are team-mates in an­other en­vi­ron­ment so it works.”

Saints were de­mol­ished by Sara­cens in their open­ing fix­ture of the sea­son, but they re­sponded in em­phatic fash­ion with five con­sec­u­tive vic­to­ries — in­clud­ing the high-pro­file scalps of Le­ices­ter Tigers and Har­lequins — be­fore last week’s five-point de­feat at the King­sholm Sta­dium.

“Six weeks ago we got a hid­ing,” Hart­ley added. “That was us be­ing at one end of the scale, and Sar­ries were at the other.

“We have made some big gains as a squad and to get an­other shot to test our­selves again against the Euro­pean cham­pi­ons and league lead­ers do­mes­ti­cally is a good op­por­tu­nity for us to see where we are at.

“You have got to re­spect your op­po­nents. We can talk about them, and go on about their suc­cess, but our fo­cus this week is to pre­pare well and fo­cus on our­selves.”

Welsh chal­lengers the Scar­lets and Ospreys both face tough en­coun­ters to­day, with the Scar­lets head­ing to three-time Euro­pean cham­pi­ons Toulon in Pool Five and Ospreys host­ing Pool Two op­po­nents Cler­mont Au­vergne, who were beaten by Sara­cens in last sea­son’s fi­nal.

“It’s a big start and a tough one with the five-day turn­around (Scar­lets host Bath next Fri­day). We have to be smart how we man­age the play­ers,” said Scar­lets head coach Wayne Pi­vac. “We learnt a lot of lessons from last sea­son. We need to look at where we have depth, and use it wisely over the next few weeks.

“We will be go­ing there with one thing in mind, and that is get­ting as many points as pos­si­ble.

“They are big, they are pow­er­ful and they have a lot of ta­lent in their squad. If you un­der­es­ti­mate them, it’s at your peril, and we cer­tainly won’t be do­ing that. It will be a big day at the of­fice.”

The Scar­lets start­ing XV in­cludes Wales full-back Leigh Half­penny, who left Toulon ear­lier this year, while the Ospreys will hope to put poor Guin­ness PRO14 form to one side when Cler­mont ar­rive in Swansea.

“We’ve got a good record at the Lib­erty Sta­dium against French sides,” said head coach Steve Tandy.

“We’ve gone up against some out­stand­ing teams there over the years and beaten some top sides, in­clud­ing Cler­mont.

“It is im­por­tant that we go into this game be­liev­ing in our­selves. We want to make sure that we kick off the cam­paign pos­i­tively.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.