Rugby Union

Six Nations: England captain Dylan Hartley vows to keep his discipline under Eddie Jones

Dylan Hartley leads England against Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday (local time) in their opening match of the Six Nations Championship determined to create a new narrative both for himself and for the team, "to take control of the story", as he puts it.

Eddie Jones' new skipper has been charged with bringing more edge to England's play and more discipline to his own game, goals that he is hell-bent on achieving even though he believes that "everyone wants to see me muck up".

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On England's eve of departure for Edinburgh, Hartley spoke with honesty, self-awareness and directness. If he manages to transfer those virtues to his team-mates, then England have a decent chance of extending their hold on the day's prize - the Calcutta Cup - to eight years.

To many outsiders, Hartley is a contentious choice as captain based on his poor disciplinary record. To insiders, he is grounded, deliberate, wry and thoughtful, savvy enough to realise that he will be under particular scrutiny.

All smiles: England's new captain Dylan Hartley.
All smiles: England's new captain Dylan Hartley. Photo: PA

"Everyone wanting to see me muck up is making me prepare for this game in a good way, not to overplay it," said Hartley, who then questioned his own assessment before revising it again. 

"Everyone wants to see people fail, don't they? I just know it is out there, for whatever reason. It is my fault. I have created this story. But I can control the story. And then we can talk about how excited I am to be back and how I am cherishing the weekend. It is almost a year [March 2015] since I played for England."


The more measured, mature Hartley will be an asset to his team. And although there have been several misdemeanours along the way, there have been many upbeat times too, occasions when Hartley proved that he was not just an international hooker of note, but also a man of reliable temperament.

In 2011 Warren Gatland, the Wales head coach, set out to goad Hartley prior to the opening match of that season's Six Nations at the Millennium Stadium, suggesting that the England hooker "would go to pieces" and "choke" under pressure. The provocative ploy backfired, Hartley was exemplary in all that he did, and England silenced the Cardiff crowd in winning 26-19.

That experience has loomed large for Hartley in the build-up to this weekend's highly-charged opener. "I compare the England captaincy [issue] to when Warren said what he did," recalls Hartley. "I had never prepared so well because I didn't want to be shown up. 

"I do think about the game a lot more now. I am prepared in that I know not to overplay it. I know what works for me. I try not to build it up too much in my own mind. 

"I am just trying to focus on myself, on the detail of my game, and the captaincy thing will just happen."

Hartley used to be a regular contributor to Twitter, funny and acerbic in equal measure. However, he has decided to put such activities on the back burner.

"You do open yourself up there and I have taken Twitter out of my life. Not because I can't handle it, as I usually find it quite entertaining some of the stuff that is written about me. But what it is about is head space. 

"You shouldn't be thinking about it either way, be it positive or negative. Someone could be blowing smoke up my backside or someone could be slating me. It is just irrelevant. It is just noise. And I don't need that noise."

Jones has taken a conservative approach with his selection, making few changes to Stuart Lancaster's World Cup line-up. Danny Care is preferred to Ben Youngs at scrum-half and Joe Marler gets in ahead of Mako Vunipola at loose head prop. 

Back-rower Jack Clifford, prop Paul Hill and centre Ollie Devoto are set to make their international debuts off the bench at Murrayfield, while lock Courtney Lawes is included among the replacements after passing a fitness test on his hamstring injury.

Hartley, 29, is England's most -experienced player with 66 caps. He will draw on the wisdom of those years, the salutary lessons learnt. He was quizzed as to whether he would do as Chris Robshaw did in the Millennium Stadium tunnel last year, refusing to go out until Wales also did, delaying the Friday-night kick-off by seven minutes.

"It is not something I will spend time thinking about, it is how I feel on the day, I'll react [accordingly]," said Hartley, nodding in assent if that meant that he would not shy away from it either.

There are no grandiose gestures planned, no speeches either, Hartley extolling the virtues of the peace and quiet of the changing-room just before he enters the Murrayfield fray, ready for a new chapter to be crafted.

"You are not playing against a team now, you are playing against a nation and there is a lot on the line," said Hartley.

There most certainly is.

The Telegraph, London