Hartley calls upon Northampton to prove their worth on European stage

Saints captain returns to take on Glasgow as the stock of Premiership teams tumbles in Heineken Cup

When Northampton's captain, Dylan Hartley, trots out the often-heard line that "you must win your home games in the Heineken Cup", he has hard evidence to back it up. Two seasons ago, Northampton won all six pool matches as they swept through to a final defeat by Leinster. Last year they lost their first two matches – one away, one at home – and elimination before the knockout stage almost inevitably followed.

"It was just a nightmare," Hartley recalls. "In the first game, away to Munster, we were heartbroken by a drop goal [by Ronan O'Gara] after however many phases. Then the following week we turn up at home, we think, 'We're the dog's bollocks, we don't lose at home', and Scarlets come and turn us over. So there's a lesson. We can't just turn up here and expect to win. Mentally we've got to turn up and make sure we're right."

Other truisms of the Heineken Cup are that a home quarter-final is handy, and therefore to earn away points in the pool is essential, too. So, to sum up, Northampton will only feel comfortable about their chances of improving English clubs' increasingly sketchy record in Europe if they beat Glasgow in this season's Heineken Cup opener today and then win away to Castres on Friday night.

For Hartley to portray this as a mental battle is painfully timely. The Premiership leaders were embarrassingly off the pace when beaten at London Irish last weekend, having won their first five league matches.

The hooker himself has had a two-week break after fracturing his eye socket, but the questions about his temperament linger. The faith shown in him by his club was replicated by England when he skippered them in their most recent match – the Third Test in South Africa, when Chris Robshaw was injured. A sin-bin offence in the second half of that 14-14 draw in Port Elizabeth marred a praiseworthy performance against arguably the world's top Test front row.

"My heart sank and ultimately I was disappointed, because we drew the game when we could have won it," Hartley says. "The ref, Steve Walsh, kept saying to me, 'Dylan, no more penalties in this area'. He meant team penalties in the red zone. The ball was being killed or slowed – and there was a ball on the floor and I fell on it and I thought, 'He can't do me' and then you see him reaching for his pocket and you feel like grabbing his hand and saying, 'No, no, no'."

The incident, he says, "pleased a lot of people. With Dylan Hartley I know that people want to see him get binned, they want to see him fail. There were a lot of people at home going, 'Yes' ". Hartley had tweets from strangers taunting him – "I've put five pounds on you getting a red card today". But he insists he has "a skin like a rhino", toughened by keeping his career of 42 England caps on track through a six-month ban for gouging in 2007 and a nine-week suspension this year for biting the fingers of Ireland's Steve Ferris in a Six Nations match at Twickenham.

He was a water-carrier "screaming on the sidelines" during the London Irish setback eight days ago that has quickly been transformed into a motivational spur. "There are a few players who I would hope you see a big reaction from this week," Hartley says. "Everything we did was not us. We reviewed it, we said, 'This is not what we're about and we are never going to be like this again'.

"It has come at a good stage in the season because we have to have two good games in the Heineken Cup, then Saracens and Leicester in the Premiership. Four huge games."

Hartley has been busy mugging up on Dougie Hall, his opposite number for Glasgow, who are on a run of four wins including away to Ospreys (28-10) and Cardiff Blues (18-3 last weekend).

The captain and second row, Al Kellock, and the unpredictable full-back Stuart Hogg will be hoping to mug the Sassenachs (even if Hartley is England's adopted New Zealander) and perhaps strike a blow for the Pro 12 in the row over the structure of the Heineken Cup.

The English argue the qualifying system is weighted against them, but their European seeding is falling, with only Northampton and Leicester now in the top 10 of the rankings. Scottish and Italian teams may miss out under the Premiership's proposal for 24 teams in the Heineken to be reduced to 20 while keeping England's quota at a minimum six.

"I believe the best teams should be in the competition, even if it means some countries' teams not qualifying," says Saints' coach, Jim Mallinder, not that it is on his players' minds every waking moment.

Mallinder says admiringly of Hartley: "He is our leader – if anyone leaves tape in the shower Dylan is the one who says, 'Pick it up, you dirty bastard'," and advocates him for the England captaincy in next month's Tests. "I do honestly think Stuart Lancaster has got a difficult decision to make now," Mallinder says. The Northampton flanker Tom Wood wants the job too. But the most pressing cross-border business is this afternoon at Franklin's Gardens.

Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
premier league
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
people'I hated him during those times'
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleMemoir extracts show iconic designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Life and Style
fashionAlexander Fury's Spring/Summer 2015 London Fashion Week roundup
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late on stage in Brixton show
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
people''Women's rights is too often synonymous with man-hating'
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam