Hart­ley fired up by bid for Euro place

The Rugby Paper - - Aviva Premiership - ■ By NEALE HAR­VEY

NORTHAMPTON are out of the run­ning for a top four play-off spot but Dy­lan Hart­ley is de­ter­mined to en­sure Cham­pi­ons Cup rugby for next sea­son with wins from the last three league games of the sea­son.

Af­ter nar­row de­feats to Le­ices­ter and Wasps in their last two out­ings, Saints have fallen off the pace, sit­ting sev­enth in the ta­ble, level on points with Quins in sixth.

But Eng­land skip­per Dy­lan Hart­ley reck­ons they are due a big scalp ahead of their clash against Saracens in Mil­ton Keynes to­day.

“It might not be a top two fin­ish like we would have liked at the start of the sea­son but we’ve got some­thing to drive for and that’s top six at the mo­ment,” Hart­ley said.

“We’ve got it all to play for, it’s a good place to be. If we were fur­ther down the ta­ble we could have just clocked off but this is a good place to be. It keeps us work­ing for some­thing.

“Those nar­row de­feats are the tale of our sea­son. To not quite take games when they’re on of­fer. With Le­ices­ter we blew three try scor­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties and like last week, shipped in about nine tries.

“We’re not too far off but there are some un­der­ly­ing is­sues that needs to be rec­ti­fied for us to im­prove and we’ve got a huge car­rot dan­gling in front of us. A top six fin­ish is a pri­or­ity for us so that we’re play­ing top-flight rugby in Europe next year.”

Tak­ing on high-fly­ing Sar­ries this time out doesn’t make things eas­ier for Northampton but Hart­ley takes con­fi­dence in the fact Saints al­ways seem to be up for the fight when they face the cham­pi­ons.

He added: “I’ve got a lot of re­spect for the Saracens team, a lot of them are my in­ter­na­tional team­mates. I see how hard those guys work and how dili­gent they are with Eng­land and I’m sure they’re no dif­fer­ent at their club.

“I’m fully re­spect­ful of them and the chal­lenge that they pose. If any­thing for us look­ing up the ta­ble and the teams above us we can learn from these guys.

“We’ll al­ways get up for Saracens, we al­ways have good games against them.”

Hart­ley said it would be a “bonus” to be selected for the Lions tour when head coach War­ren Gat­land names his tour­ing party this week.

“I’m not build­ing my­self up for pos­si­bly what would be a set­back,” Hart­ley added. “I’m happy where I am at the mo­ment. If it comes it is a bonus. If not then I have got other things to play for and other things to look for­ward to.”

PIC­TURE: Getty Images

In the thick of the bat­tle: Saints’ Dy­lan Hart­ley

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