An unsuspecting victim of the coronavirus pandemic shutdown of rugby has been the eagerly-awaited launch of Dylan Hartley’s autobiography. As one of the sport’s most colourful characters in the modern era, New Zealand-born Hartley’s reflections on a 97-cap career with England were keenly anticipated given his various highs were accompanied by 60 weeks worth of bans for a variety of offences.

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That lengthy rap sheet includes the Premiership final red card with Northampton for verbally abusing referee Wayne Barnes, which cost him his 2013 Lions tour place, and the Premiership semi-final headbutt on Jamie George, which cost him his place in the 2015 England World Cup squad. 

Stricken by a long-standing knee injury, the 2016 Grand Slam-winning captain called time on his career with immediate effect last November in the week after England lost the 2019 World Cup final. 

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Mako Vunipola takes on Jack Nowell in an all-England clash in the latest round of the RugbyPass FIFA charity tournament

The plan for the early part of his retirement was to launch his book in May with the season in the northern hemisphere heading towards its climax, but the virus outbreak has now shelved that idea and knocked the release date back until next September.  

Speaking in an interview with BT Sport’s Rugby Tonight, the 34-year-old explained: “Basically with the situation we find ourselves in now we agreed that it was insensitive. I didn’t want to be seen promoting something and there are bigger things going on in the world than me releasing a book at the moment. 

“We knocked it back and when things we hope return to normal, hopefully we can have a bit of a launch and we’re going to have a read. I called it The Hurt, not because I am the victim, but I talk about the game and the physical and mental toll that I experienced throughout my career.

“The game hurts and there are not many players that leave the game intact physically. Personally, I have never really struggled (mentally) but I can see and I have had close friends that struggled with mental health so we tap into that in the book. I basically just tell a story about my journey into rugby, my journey through rugby. It’s very egotistical, it’s all about me.”

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Having spent 14 years at Franklin’s Gardens, Hartley believes his ex-club Northampton have acted responsibly compared to some other Premiership clubs in handling the introduction of pay cuts across the board for players and coaches. “We have to look after our league, look after our clubs and look after the players. That is why the pay cuts is a really good idea,” he said. 

“It’s not a pay cut for the sake of taking money from the players and staff. It’s literally a way to keep clubs afloat because the last thing we want is guys taking full pay and then clubs to go under. It’s a really shortsighted view from a playing point of view and that is why I know there is a lot of players on board the pay cuts. When it was sat down and explained to the players the guys had that understanding that it was more of a long term view. 

“That was a really good way of doing it. I know the Saints did that. They incorporated the senior players in those discussions. When you have got understanding amongst your player group about the decisions for the cuts, it was a lot easier to take that news whereas I know some clubs got served a letter saying this is what is happening and obviously you get met with questions. I know Northampton did it in a really good way.”

Hartley also revealed that the indefinite suspension of the season results in the squad stripping bare the Northampton gym so that they could do some training in isolation.  

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“Being a professional sportsman cooped up in your house, not everyone is blessed with a garden. Some people are in apartments and things like that. Some of the guys are stir crazy and I know for a fact the conditioning staff are in regular contact with players. The whole gym has bee depleted of all the kit. All the guys went in there and pilfered everything.”

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