Head to head The day the two rivals came to blows
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.