With the countdown on towards next Saturday’s Champions Cup final in Bristol featuring Exeter and Racing, ex-Northampton skipper Dylan Hartley has recalled his nightmare 2011 final defeat against Leinster in Cardiff.

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Northampton were 16 points clear at the break at the Millennium Stadium but were successfully reeled in by their Irish opponents in the second half, a situation that wasn’t helped by the concussion Hartley suffered. 

With the head injury assessment (HIA) process not part of rugby at the time, Hartley played on even though he admitted he wasn’t in the best of health, something that forcibly struck him when he recently watched the re-run of the now nine-year-old final. 

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Dylan Hartley and Jamie Roberts ooze excellent insight on this week’s RugbyPass Offload

Remembering what he could of that May day when Saints dramatically gave second best, Hartley told the RugbyPass Offload show: “I actually tried forgetting about that final for a long time and then BT Sport said we’re going to put you on and you’re going to relive that final with Brian O’Driscoll. 

“That was the first time I ever watched the game back and, all honesty, this was the season before HIAs came in – on the stroke of half-time I scored a try and knocked myself out in the process on Cian Healy’s knee. 

“Up until half-time Saints were dominating. We were three scores clear and the only difference between the teams at half-time was Johnny Sexton apparently did this rousing kind of speech (in the Leinster dressing room) and Northampton’s captain, myself, was kind of sat on the toilet and had an emotional breakdown because I was knocked out.

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“That is the only thing I remember from that game and watching it back, watching myself, I did not look present. I was there, but I wasn’t present.

“As a game of rugby, as a spectacle, what a story, a high-scoring final. It was brilliant, the atmosphere, what I do remember of it, but it was a very long, sobering bus ride home the next day. 

“The biggest thing about losing a final is it feels like a waste of time. It feels like a waste of a push, all those hours and all that mental energy that you put in, when you come up short in the final it feels like a waste. 

“But then the other way to look at it, Northampton, when we won the Premiership, it took us seven years to do it. We got relegated, we made five semi-finals, lost them all, lost the final where I got red-carded and then the following year we finally won something, so all those setbacks and hurt and disappointment and experiences drove that final performance where we won.”

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