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The two England rookies who have most impressed Dylan Hartley

By Liam Heagney
England's Tommy Freeman (Photo by Dan Mullan/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

Former England skipper Dylan Hartley has named the new players involved in Steve Borthwick’s squad that have most caught his eye in recent weeks.

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England have enjoyed their best start to the Guinness Six Nations since 2019, beating Italy and Wales in their opening matches to be undefeated heading into their round three fixture on February 24 away to Scotland.

Ex-hooker Hartley, who led the side to back-to-back Six Nations titles in 2016 and 2017 under Eddie Jones, did some touchline punditry on Friday for the live edition of England Rugby O2 Inside Line at an open Twickenham training session in front of nearly 10,000 fans.

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It was a fresh-faced England that was put through its paces compared to the squad that Borthwick had with him at the recent Rugby World Cup.

Five new players were given debut caps in the opening-round win over Italy earlier this month and there have also been recalls for the likes of Tommy Freeman, Alex Coles and some other players originally capped by Jones who had fallen down the pecking order.

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Asked which of the fresh faces had impressed him most, Hartley said: “Tommy Freeman. He has been doing good things with Northampton.

“I have a clear bias because I am a Northampton man, but it’s strength of character, a testament to him because Eddie Jones capped him and then he kind of went away for a little bit, not on form or not on Eddie’s form.

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“And then for Steve to recognise his excellence and his form to bring him back in it means he hasn’t gone away sulking and then buggered off to France or something like that.

“I’m not saying that about the guys going to France – there’s nothing wrong with that. But he has just stuck at it, has come in and his couple of early touches on the ball have been brilliant.

“Yeah, I’d say Tommy. And Fraser (Dingwall). He is a little bit older, has been chipping away. He has been an old wise head at Northampton for such a young guy and he has been integral to Northampton.

“They have been playing well the last four years but they have been losing games in the last (part), but those guys are coming of age now and they are starting to win the games and they are sitting on top of the Premiership. It shows that with a little bit of patience early on and sticking with players, good things can come.”

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Hartley suggested that what has helped the newcomers bed in quickly is the departure of totems such as Courtney Lawes and Owen Farrell, who have stepped away from the international scene following England’s bronze medal finish at France 2023.

“For an Ethan Roots or a Fraser Dingwall, it’s not like they have been called up to the Rugby World Cup squad and there’s Courtney Lawes and there’s Owen Farrell. They’re not stifled by that pressure of coming into the team and relationships that they don’t know.

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“It’s almost like this Six Nations is the first day of high school for these young kids and they are going to grow together throughout the next two years. You’re bang on in terms of the environment is not an asphyxiating one, they can free within themselves because everyone else is in the same boat.

“There are a couple of old players hanging on in there but in general it’s a platform for them to launch international careers and build a new England team. What they have done at their clubs has got them here, now go and do it out here (at Twickenham).”

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Comments

1 Comment
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BigMaul 147 days ago

Dingwall? What a load of rubbish. He’s just picking his mates. People like that don’t deserve a platform. Not worth writing this up.

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