Hartley has bit back between teeth

England hooker is raring to go against Barbarians on return from ban for bad behaviour he disputes

England are playing an unusually strong hand against the Barbarians in today's end of season runaround at Twickenham. With three Tests against the Springboks in South Africa starting in Durban on Saturday week, this is a crucial loosener.

True there are one or two thrusting tyros being given a run, such as the Wasps wing Christian Wade and flanker Joe Launchbury, but mostly the changes to the first choices have been forced by injury or the unavailability of the Harlequins and Leicester players involved in yesterday's Premiership final. Dylan Hartley, for instance, is in at hooker after serving an eight-week suspension for biting in England's last match, the otherwise heartening 30-9 rout of Ireland at Twickenham in March.

The Barbarians have a highly capable front row of John Afoa, John Smit and Neemia Tialata, although the perennial question will be how long and hard the invitational side will be prepared to scrummage and maul against an England side with the big bad Boks on their minds.

"We've spoken about this as a launchpad," says Hartley. "Win this game, then we get 18 finalists join the group on Monday, and it's a happy camp when we're flying on Wednesday."

England will use all their replacements and intend to examine some new and overdue attacking options by deploying the London Irish centre Jonathan Joseph alongside Owen Farrell and Brad Barritt in the second half.

"I've compared this past week's training with our first week in Leeds before the Six Nations," Hartley says. "The baseline on our first day's training was brilliant and the accuracy every day has got better. Everyone knows the systems, including the new players coming in."

Hartley's enthusiasm has a different source: two months of frustrating inactivity and the obvious perception that after long, hard years spent disproving a reputation for hotheadness that came with a six-month ban for gouging in 2007, he will be seen as a recidivist for his bite on the little finger of the right hand of Ireland's flanker Stephen Ferris. In fact the Six Nations disciplinary panel chose to ignore Hartley's previous record, effectively treating his slate as clean.

But as the 26-year-old puts it: "It will be easy for people reading the stuff to say, 'Yeah, he's a biter,' even though I've had players come to me and explained they understand the circumstances."

Those circumstances were a first-half ruck in which Hartley had a strong "jackalling" position over the ball and Ferris grabbed him around the neck and head, to try to move him. Ireland's doctor, Eanna Falvey, reported to the disciplinary hearing: "There were three obvious tooth marks from a bite to the middle phalanx of the fifth finger of the right hand."

Or, as Hartley calls it, "the pinky". There was a difference of opinion over that digit. Ferris gave evidence that his finger did not enter Hartley's mouth until Hartley bit him.

"Basically it was his word against mine. It felt like he had something in for me," says Hartley. "You can't lever somebody without gripping them [and] whether it was accidental or by design his hand was in my mouth. I think it was accidental."

It was certainly dental.

"He pulled me, I've bit as a reaction," Hartley says. "Before I could even think about there being something in my mouth, I'd done it."

And he sighs and adds that in his understanding the panel agreed with that version but concluded the bite was still to be punished. "I struggled with that because I had no control over it. It's not like I've gone and bit someone's face or someone's ear, looking to hurt someone. It was purely a reaction to someone's hand in my mouth because I was uncomfortable. I've got that label now."

Nevertheless, while conceding that "the South Africans might see it as a weakness and they could be coming for me", Hartley says the test he will face will be nothing like the "long process of about three years" after the gouging ban. "I've played too many big games now when people have tried and failed to provoke me. Little did they know I was always thinking about it, one step ahead."

The Wales coach Warren Gatland's wind-uppery, referring to Hartley standing up in scrums, was one example in 2011, ridden out triumphantly by the hooker in an England win.

The biting ban ended at midnight on Sunday 13 May, about 31 hours after Northampton had been knocked out of the Premiership play-offs at Harlequins. They could have done with Hartley, in the absence of the suspended Calum Clark and the injured Tom Wood and Courtney Lawes.

"I do feel guilty in the sense that I didn't contribute to Saints' season as much as I wanted," Hartley says. "Though if you look at it in a selfish light, not putting my body through rugby for eight weeks was good. It's like I've been through a pre-season. Jim Mallinder [Saints' director of rugby] insisted I did every first-team training session, every second-team session, and I was the first man up for any community work and school visits. When you're banned or injured your pigeon hole is always full."

He was also enlisted by the stand-in captain, Lee Dickson, to gee the Saints up before matches. "The semi-final at Harlequins was hard," he says. "You're warming up with the lads then it's kick-off and you have to sit and watch. I felt like a fan."

England's tours of South Africa

1972 Played 7 Won 6 Drew 1 Lost 0

1984 P7 W4 D1 L2

1994 P8 W3 L5

1998 P1 L1

2000 P5 W4 L1

2007 P2 W0 L2

England B Foden; C Ashton (both Northampton), B Barritt, O Farrell (both Saracens), C Wade (Wasps); C Hodgson (Saracens), L Dickson (Northampton); M Stevens (Saracens), D Hartley, P Doran-Jones (both Northampton), M Botha (Saracens), T Palmer (Stade Français), T Johnson (Exeter), P Dowson (Northampton, capt), C Fearns (Bath). Replacements L Mears (Bath), M Mullan (Worcester), J Launchbury (Wasps), J Gibson (London Irish), R Wigglesworth (Saracens), J Joseph (London Irish), A Goode (Saracens).

Barbarians M Muliaina (New Zealand); P Sackey (England), C Laulala (New Zealand), M Tindall, I Balshaw (both England); S Donald (New Zealand), R Lawson (Scotland); N Tialata (New Zealand), J Smit (South Africa, capt), M Chisholm (Australia), A van Zyl (Stade Français), E Joubert (Saracens), J Beattie (Scotland), A Qera (Fiji). Replacements B August (France), D Jones (Wales), P Taele-Pavihi (Samoa), R Lakafia (France), J Fillol (Stade Français), F Contepomi (Argentina), S Tagicakibau (Samoa).

Referee J Lacey (Ireland).

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
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

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker