Confident England will not be fazed by ‘aura’ of All Blacks, says Hartley
Former England captain tells Charlie Morgan that fear will not prove a factor in the semi-final
Dylan Hartley has never been cowed by reputations and the former England captain believes the side who contest tomorrow’s World Cup semi-final will be similarly unfazed by New Zealand.
Hartley, who was ruled out of the World Cup in the summer through injury, is adamant that there will be no fear factor for Eddie Jones’s side.
“I think the media build this aura for them,” Hartley said of the All Blacks. “They win games because they are better than other teams. They lose games because the other team is better on the day.
“As a player, I have never gone into a game thinking that we couldn’t beat them. I don’t know if that’s the difference between being a player and being a fan or a journo, but, as a player, you are a competitor. You always believe you can win.
“[New Zealand] have earned their title. They have earned two successive World Cups. [But] England have Lions players who have beaten them in New Zealand. The team that played last November came within a point. The team will believe.”
Hartley, 33, has faced New Zealand eight times across his 97-cap Test career, coming closest to victory last November at Twickenham in what could turn out to be his final match as captain – he and Owen Farrell shared responsibilities that day.
The hosts opened a 15-0 lead before losing 16-15. After scoring England’s second try from a 13-man driving maul, Hartley was replaced at hooker by Jamie George at half-time. Scott Barrett, starting this weekend in New Zealand’s back row, then arrived from the bench to help the All Blacks dominate the line-out.
Even so, Steve Hansen’s men were indebted to Sam Underhill’s disallowed try in the final moments, which was chalked off due to an offside offence from Courtney Lawes in the build-up.
Hartley explained that England could take heart from that performance, as well as a Manu Tuilagi-inspired triumph in 2012. There is also the fact that eight of England’s starting side were involved in the British and Irish
‘Eddie talks about winning and the more you talk about it, the more you want to be a winner’
Lions’ win over New Zealand in Wellington two years ago.
Having worked closely with Jones, leading the side to 17 consecutive wins across 2016 and 2017 to begin the Australian’s tenure, Hartley also heralded the influence of the coach.
“Eddie is a legend,” he said. “I loved working with him. I appreciate everything he gave to me, the mentoring he gave me and the way he prodded me to get the best out of me.
“I sit back now, not in that camp and not in that environment, and I enjoy watching him. Just from the stuff he says in the media, I think he is brilliant for the game. Players can learn from that.
“He brings colour, he brings personality. It’s good to see. Unfortunately, in this day and age, a lot of that personality that you guys crave in the media is drummed out of the players.
“They are too cautious, they are too aware. I think Eddie is great for the game in that respect, along with being a good coach – meticulous in everything he does.”
New Zealand-born Hartley revealed that his parents always wanted the All Blacks to prevail in the Anglo-kiwi encounters that featured their son. However, Jones, who sent a catch-up text to Hartley just this week, has invigorated the England set-up since outlining his aim to become the best team in the world from “day one”.
“He is a competitor and that is what you want as a coach,” Hartley said. “He talks openly about winning and the more you talk about winning, the more you want to be a winner.
“For too long, we tiptoed around the idea of talking about winning. There is nothing wrong with saying you want to win. We get caught up with being respectful and humble. You can be those things, but we are there to win. Eddie communicates that to the team, he communicates it publicly. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s what we needed.”
Australia “dug their own grave” in the quarter-final by “running everything from their own half ”, and Hartley highlighted New Zealand’s attack-minded kicking game – and how England deal with it – as a pivotal battleground.
Hartley’s last match was Northampton Saints’ 32-6 win over Worcester Warriors on Dec 21 last year and he admitted to being bored of the rehabilitation process.
Being reduced to a spectator is hard after his contribution to the four years of work that will be underpinning England’s effort to topple New Zealand.
“I can’t lie about that, it’s difficult,” Hartley said. “But I’m also in a place where I’ve had to accept where I am and try to enjoy watching rugby for what it is.
“Equally, you understand what the players are going through in those moments, what is on the line in the build-up. I’ve never played in a semi-final of a World Cup. I can imagine that the excitement, pressure, expectation – however you want to think about it – is slowly building up.
“Everything that we’ve worked for, everything that everyone has contributed over the last four years, has built up to this week.”
Big moment: England celebrate Dylan Hartley’s try against the All Blacks last year