Dylan Hartley: Northampton have spent the season proving all our critics wrong

 

It is difficult to imagine Northampton suffering from a persecution complex – who in their right mind would pick on such hardened street fighters as Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes, Tom Wood and the fearsome Samu Manoa? – but they are certainly sick to the back teeth of being written off.

"It's been the story of our season," said Hartley, their captain, after completing a final training session ahead of this weekend's Aviva Premiership decider at Twickenham. "We've spent the whole campaign trying to prove people wrong. And guess what? We've reached the grand final."

In order to take the next step and actually win the thing, Hartley's side must see off their nearest and not-so-dearest from Leicester – local rivals who are positively smothered in showpiece experience, having reached this stage for the ninth year in succession.

As recently as a fortnight ago, few would have given the Saints a prayer. Now, in the wake of their comprehensive 27-13 dismantling of Saracens in the semi-final, aficionados of East Midlands rugby expect a proper contest.

"We'll need to summon the same kind of emotion, the same intensity, as we brought to the game at Saracens," said Hartley, "and I can guarantee it will be there.

"We have so much to play for: we've had an up-and-down season, we've been given the underdog tag and we have players who will leave the club after this game. We've been through thick and thin together, so the prospect of playing in front of a full house at Twickenham and winning a trophy is huge. I've had some good times here, but losing four Premiership semi-finals and a Heineken Cup final was heartbreaking. I don't want this to be another heartbreak game."

Leicester will almost certainly begin the match with six freshly-anointed British and Irish Lions on the field. Hartley is the only Northampton man to have made the cut for the forthcoming tour of Australia. As the hooker's direct front-row opponent will be Tom Youngs, the man currently keeping him out of the England starting line-up and one of the favourites to make the Lions' starting XV, there could be all manner of fun and games at scrum time.

"I'm going to Twickenham to win a trophy for the club," Hartley said. "But yes, there's a sub-plot involving me and Tom. If I go well against him, I'll put my hand up in front of the Lions coaches. It's a chance to push myself forward. I think a few people believe I'm in that squad as the third hooker, but everyone has their time in the sun and I'm here for the long game."

One player who knows what it is to score the match-winning try in a Premiership final, the former Leicester and England centre Dan Hipkiss, has announced his retirement from the sport at 30 after failing to recover from a serious shoulder injury.

Hipkiss, whose last-ditch try against Saracens took the Tigers to the 2010 title, joined Bath the following year and had recently signed a contract extension at the Recreation Ground.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Phillips Idowu, Stella McCartney and Jessica Ennis
fashionMcCartney to continue designing Team GB Olympics kit until 2016
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism