The fallout from last week’s boozing Barbarians controversy has prompted Dylan Hartley to revisit one of the most infamous episodes of England Rugby World Cup history – the 2011 dwarf tossing shenanigans in Queenstown. 

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Last Sunday’s England match against the Barbarians at Twickenham was cancelled after it emerged that players from the invitational club side, a posse that included ex-England skipper Chris Robshaw, twice breached the protective hotel bubble designed to ensure the Quilter Cup match could safely go ahead despite Covid-19.

That escapade got Hartley, another ex-England skipper, thinking about social escapades from his own career and he delved into reminiscing about the infamous carry-on nine years ago at the World Cup in New Zealand which left Martin Johnson’s squad at the mercy of the media who went into overdrive and berated the English. 

Appearing on the latest edition of the RugbyPass Offload show, Hartley didn’t hesitate in telling his version of a story that gained notoriety due to allegations that drunken England players were tossing dwarfs around a Queenstown pub during a night out at the finals where they went on to be eliminated at the quarter-final stage.  

“It started with really good intentions,” said Hartley, casting his mind back to high jink that had repercussions for the public image of Johnson’s squad. “We had just won a game, we were in Queenstown to have downtime and we went to the pub.

“There was a free tab, it started really pleasant, a bit of team bonding, unwinding, but then things just escalate and your moral compass kind of goes. We bowled around the corner and it was a hostel with a very good bar attached to it. The funny thing is the Welsh and Irish teams had been there a couple of days earlier doing exactly what we were doing. There was a sign outside that said midget madness and we didn’t even see that, we just went to the busiest place. 

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“We went in there and there were some small people performing, dancing and we basically had a dance with them. There was no throwing whatsoever but being the England rugby team at a World Cup with a massive media following we got a lot of attention. 

“He [Johnson] was good as gold. He basically said just make good decisions, but trying to make good decisions after a few pints is difficult. No one was hurt, it was just good fun but completely blown way out the water with the (Mike) Tindall link and the little people. 

“It’s almost madness that no one in that (England) leadership group – but again it was a sign of the times – said after this (first) pub we’re probably going to go home boys. We were just left to our own devices to kick on and make our own fun. I doubt that would happen these days, especially in the height of a World Cup.”  

Reflecting on last week’s controversy surrounding the Barbarians, Hartley added: “It’s just disappointing. It wasn’t their intention to do that. We needed the game. England needed the game as a warm-up, the RFU needed the game for revenue. General rugby community rugby public wanted the game and needed the game to lift spirits and whatnot, so it was disappointing it didn’t go ahead. 

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“It’s not like they considered it and did something malicious, it was fairly innocent. I imagine in that Baa-Baas camp the reputation and the stories that come with that team, a lot of it is built around the socialising element. They tried to water that right down and do something to bond but they breached their contract… like most things in life it started with good intentions and it probably got out of control.”

Fellow show host Ryan Wilson, the Glasgow and Scotland back row, revealed to Hartley that he was invited to join the Barbarians as the emergency unfolded but was told in no uncertain terms by Warriors coach Danny Wilson he was going nowhere.   

“I got a phone call,” said Wilson. “Nathan Hines, who was doing the (Barbarians) forwards stuff, phoned me on Friday while I was travelling down to Ospreys. He said: ‘Mate, what are you up to at the weekend?’

“I said I have a game tomorrow. He said: ‘You keen to come straight to London and play?’ I was keen but imagine my coach, 80 minutes against Ospreys and then playing again the next day. I walked straight into Danny Wilson and said I’m playing for the Baa-Baas once we have played this game and he told me to f*** off straight away. I would have been keen to get down there but not to happen.”

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