Head to head The day the two ri­vals came to blows

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Rugby Union -

It was a mo­ment of mad­ness by Dy­lan Hartley (be­low left) that was to have dire con­se­quences for the Northamp­ton hooker. His butt on Sara­cens’ Jamie Ge­orge dur­ing a Premier­ship semi-fi­nal clash at Franklin’s Gardens in May 2015 led to Hartley be­ing cited and he was sub­se­quently banned by a Rugby Foot­ball Union dis­ci­plinary panel for four weeks. But hav­ing been warned by Eng­land coach Stu­art Lan­caster about his poor dis­ci­plinary record – he had al­ready stacked up 50 weeks’ worth of sus­pen­sions – he was then banned from the World Cup squad, with his place

going to Ge­orge. Sun­day then Ge­orge will be­lieve he has a chance to over­haul Hartley in the race for the start­ing Eng­land shirt. The pair’s re­la­tion­ship is cor­dial – Hartley sent Ge­orge a mes­sage con­grat­u­lat­ing him on his Lions call-up – but the Sara­cen does not hide his am­bi­tion.

“I have never wanted to be sec­ond choice,” he says. “It’s the way it has fallen. What do I need to do to start for Eng­land? I don’t know. If I did then I would be do­ing it. My mes­sages from the Eng­land coaches are that I have to im­prove in cer­tain ar­eas, that I need to keep play­ing well and the con­sis­tency of my per­for­mances need to re­main high.”

If he does, then Sara­cens will be a step closer to match­ing Toulon’s achieve­ment by be­com­ing just the sec­ond team to win three suc­ces­sive Euro­pean ti­tles. As Ge­orge makes plain, it is not an un­re­al­is­tic propo­si­tion.

“We have ev­ery con­fi­dence we can [win it again],” says Ge­orge. “The peo­ple we have brought in, we have added re­ally well. Liam [Wil­liams] and Calum [Clarke] have played a lot re­cently and have brought a huge amount. We’re de­fend­ing champions but we want to get this cam­paign off to a fly­ing start. This pool is a re­ally tough one but we have ev­ery rea­son to be push­ing for that ti­tle again.”

Now that re­ally would be magic.

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