Dylan Hartley has recalled how a raucous Christmas night on the tiles one year with Northampton resulted in him having to retrace his steps the following morning and offer apologies on behalf of the club, but he couldn’t fix one particular delicate dilemma caused by Neil Best.

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The former Ireland international flanker had a reputation as a bit of a hell-raiser away from the pitch and Hartley this week remembered how one December night of night jinx created a problem that even the Saints club captain couldn’t solve.

Appearing as co-host on the latest RugbyPass Offload show, Hartley was asked to pick a party time player he would include on a fictional XV of Best All-Time Tourists and, without much hesitation, he nominated Best, his former Northampton teammate, for selection.

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The now-41-year-old from Ulster hooked up with Saints in summer 2008, spending two seasons with the Franklin’s Gardens club before moving on to Worcester and seeing out his club career at London Scottish before moving to the Far East and taking up a new career as a loss adjuster with a shipping company.

It’s now a decade since he was at Northampton but his memory lives on with Hartley, who himself retired from playing in 2019 after a number of seasons as England skipper under Eddie Jones.

“I’ll just need to say the name and I’ll tell you a quick story about this man – Neil Best, Irish openside flanker,” said Hartley. “Anyone listening who knows Neil Best will understand completely why he is in this touring team.

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“Like every good Irish person I know, he loves a drink. He is the life and soul of the party. We had a Christmas party a few years ago and something I learned as a captain is taking a team into public places is a no-no. It took me four, five years to work that out.

“I ended up having all team socials basically in the changing room because you put 40, 50 blokes together with a whole load of alcohol, all social norms go out the window…

“We hired a bus and did a pub crawl around Northampton, a double decker bus decorated in Christmas fancy dress and whatnot. We did the twelve pubs of Christmas and things started going missing from the pubs.

“The double decker bus started collecting everything from baubles to pool cues to clocks. We had Christmas trees, we were taking Christmas trees from pubs. I just want to say the worst thing about being captain as well is Sunday going around your community apologising and emotionally paying people off while all the boys are hungover in bed.

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“This is one of those things about leadership that people don’t see, you have to go and do a clean-up job. During the course of the night full park benches got put onto the double decker bus, Christmas trees, a card reader machine, all these things were taken.

“But the one thing we couldn’t return the next day was a pub’s goldfish. Neil Best picked up the goldfish out of bowl, put it in his pint and downed it. The fish was never seen again.

“When we used to go out you’d get in a round and buy pints but he [Best] would walk in and buy two bottles of vodka. He would keep the pourer on it and he would go around and just shove it in anyone’s mouth and say, ‘Sucky calf’. You’d have to drink from the bottle like a sucky calf. He basically got things going, but that fish story will live with me for a very long time.

“Funnily enough when he lived in Northampton he lived one door down from the local pub and it was as bit like a marriage, he was barred from it and then was back in it, barred and then back in. Brilliant guy, good team man. Life and soul of the party. Get him on our tour.”

 

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