Hartley still happy to throw caution to wind and rain

Hooker is not haunted by line-out trouble against Irish as fire and brimstone beckon in Calcutta Cup clash

Dylan Hartley would do well in front of the Chilcot Inquiry. "Why is it that everyone wants to beat England?" the New Zealand-born hooker asked, with summer strawberry sweetness, as he took questions about next week's Calcutta Cup match at Murrayfield. If Hartley does not know by now, after 17 months and 17 caps wearing the English red rose, he will find out amid the tartan tempest unique to the biennial trip to Edinburgh.

Perhaps in a week when the Rugby Football Union laid the blame everywhere but at their own door for the row with Stade Français over the release of James Haskell, this was just Hartley adding to the evasive action. The elephant in the room regarding Haskell is what it says about the sorry state of England, who have more players than any country on the planet yet are so jittery at giving one of them leeway to go back to his club.

When it was pointed out to Hartley that England could claim useful bragging rights next Saturday, given they meet Scotland only once more before a supremely crucial World Cup pool match in New Zealand in September 2011, he twinkled and claimed ignorance of the fixtures. "The World Cup's so far away," he said. "Though it would help not to be playing against the unknown."

No one expects the average international player – or even a very good one, as Hartley's recent performances are marking him out to be – to carry every statistic and past result in his head. These men live in the moment and mostly for good reason.

However, not all history is bunk. England have a terrible habit of tripping over their own feet in Edinburgh, with slack-jawed players emerging from a chastening 80 minutes, often in the wind and the rain, to say: "Gadzooks, we had no idea it was going to be like that."

England's losses in 2000, 2006 and 2008 featured a pathetic inability to locate a Plan B in the face of Scottish fire and brimstone. Blame the coach? Clive Woodward, Andy Robinson and Brian Ashton in turn were each felled by the kilted cosh.

"Both teams will be desperate to win," said Hartley. "I've played at Murrayfield once before, a club game against Borders, in front of about 50 people. I don't know much about the history. It's just another big game." So will the wind-up texts be flying back and forth with his Northampton club-mate Euan Murray, the Scotland tighthead prop? "No, Euan's a Scotsman, he's too tight to text." Well, it was an insight of sorts.

A selective withdrawal from the memory bank might just do Martin Johnson some good this week when his critics are questioning ever more stridently what it is that the England manager does. He could run some footage of Lawrence Dallaglio's hubristic try in 2000 before Duncan Hodge splashed through a giant puddle to win it for Scotland and a crestfallen Matt Dawson "forgot" to pick up the championship trophy.

Or of the quintessentially big English pack, including Steve Borthwick, being beaten in the tryless match of 2006. Or two years ago, when Jonny Wilkinson, who has Toby Flood as a rival for his starting spot this time, lost the plot in a rainstorm.

Robinson, of course, is in the blue corner now. Scotland's coach will have pored over the weaknesses as England's latest attempt at a first Grand Slam since 2003 went west last weekend with a 20-16 defeat to Ireland. And this is where Hartley was happy to argue the toss.

Referring to a sequence of four lost line-out throws as Johnson suffered his first championship defeat at Twickenham, as player or manager, since 1997, Hartley said: "We went through a bad patch. Ireland had smart players and when it was bucketing down with rain they put the ball out and put the pressure on.

"The previous week against Italy, I was poor and held my hand up. But you can't point the finger [solely] at me for last week. It was a collective thing – a mislift, a poor call, one throw I did which was too hard in wet conditions. As a maturing player, it is kind of hard, when you miss one, miss two, miss three. At the fourth one you think: 'Holy shit, what's going on here?' To come back and start hitting them again was a good sign."

A misfiring line-out would be a signpost to Scotland taking the high road. And Hartley knows that the scrum will be tough too. That's where he will lock cauliflower ears with Murray. "He's the ultimate professional and one of the best in the world at what he does," said Hartley. "He's a role model for me, the way he trains and lives his life, and he's always on at me to get better. Ross Ford at hooker [for Scotland] is a big boy. England have been scrummaging well in recent weeks."

That is true, but England need to whistle up the continuity between forwards and backs which was missing from those Caledonian cock-ups of the past, just when the current side are missing it too.

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future