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Dylan Hartley: 'Watershed' England win, 'inspirational' Jamie George

By Liam Heagney
England skipper Jamie George carries the fight to Ireland (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Last Saturday was like old times for Dylan Hartley. A rousing England win, an electric Twickenham atmosphere. Lovely. The retired Test captain was there in person, lapping it all up – and he wouldn’t change a thing. Not even the dramatic way the game was ultimately won.

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Steve Borthwick team’s were knocking on the Irish line, just inches away from scoring the try that would have secured a four-try bonus point and left them just three points behind the title holders – and not four – heading into next weekend’s final round.

That extra round four point could lessen the demands on the type of result England need in France if the Irish bottle their earlier-in-the-day game at home to Scotland.

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Joel Kpoku on life in the very physical French Top 14

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Joel Kpoku on life in the very physical French Top 14

Hartley’s call? Go and beat Ireland 23-22 with the Marcus Smith ‘droppy’ on penalty advantage and not chase the try. Winning was what mattered most, not whether you did it by crossing the line.

“It’s great. Coulda, shoulda, woulda – you always take a victory against Ireland in that position. We’ll let the rugby gods figure the rest out late down the line. No, great decision, great composure. First and foremost win the game and take what is on offer, 100 per cent,” he insisted to RugbyPass on behalf of BetIdeas.com.

Attack

163
Passes
121
114
Ball Carries
93
327m
Post Contact Metres
182m
8
Line Breaks
2

It was November 2018 when Hartley – who turns 38 later this month – last played for England at Twickenham, winning the last of his 97 caps in an international career that began in 2008. A long-standing knee injury did for him.

Since then, Twickenham has endured the behind-closed-doors games of the pandemic and the restoration of its once cherished, raucous atmosphere has been a slow build given the decline in results at English rugby HQ.

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No more. Saturday against the Irish was the day when the team and crowd finally reunited and the stadium was rocking at the finish, home fans left delirious with how the Guinness Six Nations fixture had dramatically unfolded.

The adrenalin-pumping din wasn’t lost on Hartley. “It was Twickenham of old, I haven’t heard it like that for a few years. The crowd need something early, they need Tommy Freeman’s carry early on, an early score, these sorts of things get the crowd into it.

“Across the board, not everything was working but you could see the endeavour, you could see the intent to what they were doing, you could see the intensity and the crowd feeds off it. To a man, 1 to 23, they all delivered sort of eight out of 10 performances and the crowd sees that right, they see the extra stuff, they see how much it means.

“Again, Twickenham I haven’t heard it like that in a long time. It was a good reminder to everyone to keep coming back because the team, they are only a young team and they have got plenty more to give.”

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The round four match was Borthwick’s 20th match in charge since he succeeded Eddie Jones in December 2022. His tenure has been a slow build. Underwhelming Six Nations and Summer Series campaigns, where just three of nine matches were won, were followed by a World Cup where much of the rugby played en route to a bronze medal finish left fans bemused rather than enthused.

We experienced similar last month, narrow three- and two-point wins over Italy and Wales materialising before the reputation-damaging crash away to Scotland. Surprising Ireland, though, with a defiant performance in which England at last demonstrated that they can effectively attack by putting the ball through the hands was a riveting game-changer.

“It’s relatively a young squad and it’s a team that has been through a lot in the last year in terms of change of coaches, poor run of form into a Rugby World Cup, lots of bad headlines about them and it was a watershed moment for the team just showing everybody what they are capable of.

“It’s a very young team as well and this Irish team there was bits of inexperience in there but it is very much a well-oiled big green machine that is ticking over quite nicely, so for them to do it against a proper team is a huge lift for all of England rugby but internally it’s a huge lift for Borthwick, a huge lift for Ben Earl, Jamie George.

“You hear them speak about it, they have been saying for weeks on end ‘we’re trying, we’re doing our best, we want to show and make people proud’ and finally the passes stick, they get the intensity right and the game goes their way.

“The one lesson to take is being a relatively young squad they (now) know what it takes and it’s quite scary because it was a monumental effort and you have got to replicate that every week you play. That is what the Irish rugby team has been doing for a few years now; they are almost replicating a nine, 10 out of 10 intensity in performance every week so for the young fellas, they have got a barometer now of where they have got to get to.”

One England player who is not so young is their 33-year-old new skipper George. First capped in 2015, he spent the first three years of his Test career with England subbing behind Hartley but he has since gone on to make the No2 jersey his own.

It’s been a traumatic few weeks for the hooker off and on the pitch. His mum tragically passed away just days after the win over the Welsh and England then crashed and burned away to the Scots. He defiantly insisted there would be a response against the Irish and how right he was.

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“We all mature, we all age and gain more experience,” suggested Hartley. “They have got a fantastic relationship with Jamie, they’ve got a professional relationship. He has only evolved in the last five years since I’ve stopped playing and he has been through more as a player and he has always been in and around winning teams.

“He has always been in and around winners, whether it be John Smit, Schalk Brits, Owen Farrell, he has been in successful teams and you talk about leadership density across your team, he is one of these guys who adds a tremendous amount of value so to see him end up in a captaincy position is no surprise.

“The last few weeks, him and his family being through a tough time, and I think some broad shoulders (were needed) to front up and want to play in that situation. Inspirational in many ways.

“Unfortunately against Scotland, I don’t think it was down to Jamie but it just didn’t go well for the team that week so there was a massive amount of I don’t know, it just felt like a big relief from the team at the weekend because they finally delivered what they have been talking about and wanting to show the rugby world and show the English rugby public and Jamie playing for his family and what not, there was just a sense across the board of deliverance. It was fantastic in that aspect.”

Critics of the Six Nations were plentiful last month, fearing that an Ireland procession to an unprecedented second successive Grand Slam in the modern era would be bad for business.

That’s now not going to happen but not only did the English derail the Irish last Saturday in London, Italy upset Scotland in Rome while the winless Wales were ahead of France at half-time the following day in Cardiff. All in all, an incredibly brilliant weekend for the sport and a reminder to never take the tournament for granted.

Six Nations

P
W
L
D
PF
PA
PD
BP T
BP-7
BP
Total
1
Ireland
4
3
1
0
16
2
England
4
3
1
0
12
3
Scotland
4
2
2
0
11
4
France
4
2
1
1
11
5
Italy
4
1
2
1
7
6
Wales
4
0
4
0
3

“It’s just a reminder to everyone that the game is changing and at the top, it’s very fine (margins) now. Players come from all over the world and play for different teams, we have just got to accept that. Analysis, coaching, playing methods, and styles are very similar and with a rugby red card these days, I’d say eight teams on the day you can have a different winner.

“The weekend is a clear reminder of that. Italy are your wooden spooners. They have been performing well in this tournament and then they finally get the win that they are after. Scotland had three opportunities against England and they took them, and then England turn over the best team in the world.

“I’m sure South Africa, New Zealand, Australia are sitting down under and saying there is a lot going on in Six Nations, they are all piping up getting ahead of themselves so they will be looking as well. They will be looking saying they want a piece of it.

“I just think it is a good reminder that the margins are so fine. We are the guys that talk about favourites and underdogs, we’re the guys who talk about form and odds but if you have sat in a changing room and you have had a couple of weeks of bad press and a loss, you know man for man that you can beat the team sat across the corridor from you and I have no doubt England going into that game had that inner belief that they could do it.

“That’s the beauty of the game – anything can happen on the day at the moment. It’s good for the game, it’s not predictable anymore. Back-to-back Grand Slams, that is why it is so bloody hard to do. We talked about being the first team to do that (in 2017) and I’m sure Ireland were talking about being the first team to do it as well.

“It just shows how beautiful this tournament is, and it’s lookout when Wales get going because their young team will be dangerous going forward for this experience and France, when they pull themselves out of this emotional hole that they have been in, when they get their (Antoine) Dupont back and they get their swagger, man, it’s a pretty scary tournament when you look at it and the expectation on teams now is to win them all so it’s pretty competitive, it’s very open.”

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Comments

6 Comments
K
KiwiSteve 132 days ago

Ireland are going to win the world 🌎 cup 🗑️

B
Bull Shark 132 days ago

Finally. Something balanced about this English Team and result.

Firstly, carries and post-contact metres gained. After everything that’s been said about England’s poor attack. Ireland’s defence was poor. And it was shaky in moments against Wales. Scotland take note.

Secondly, Scotland played well against England. They are a good side in what is a tighter 6N than anyone thought. Scotland can beat Ireland and I wouldn’t be surprised if they do.

Serious question. Since before and after the World Cup - what has Ireland shown us that is new? It seems to me as though Ireland thought they’d win the 6N applying the same templates they took to the World Cup. As if teams haven’t and wouldn’t figure out how to stop their attack.

They have.

As beautiful as Irelands attack is - in the two games they have lost (NZ and now England) it has been like watching a beautiful hummingbird flying repeatedly into a patio window. A real shame.

England has certainly showed a lot new and have been lambasted for working on it. But their return from this 6 Nations could be the trophy. Not bad for the RWC bronze medalists. Wales, Italy have also shown a lot new. France and Ireland less so.

I think Ireland has their work cut out for them. Mostly I think they need to start adapting their game. They certainly need to work on their defence - because currently, anyone who has a better defence than them can beat them.

That’s where Scotland might come unstuck this weekend. If they let Irelands attack purr into ascendancy, don’t shut them down and give them too much possession, then Ireland will walk away with it.

However, Scotland has to make up for their on and off performances this 6N. They have shown what they can do. They need to make up for their pool game loss at the WC. And the loss to Italy!

They can do this with a spirited and focused shot at Ireland who are as vulnerable as they have ever been.

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