Six Nations: Dylan Hartley turns pacifist ahead of England-France match: ‘You can’t just punch anyone any more’

Ahead of England’s crucial first game against France, their feisty hooker admits that front-row tactics have had to change

England hookers have famously enjoyed success in Paris by making the entente as uncordial as possible. Brian “the pitbull” Moore drove some heavily built Frenchmen to tears during an unforgettable Parc des Princes punch-up in the 1990s, while Mark “Ronnie” Regan, after another England victory in 2008, was described as a “grotesque clown” by the then France coach, Marc Lièvremont (“I objected to the word ‘grotesque’,” is Regan’s grinning recollection).

So it may be a disappointment to some that Dylan Hartley’s approach to the always theatrical front-row confrontation is avowedly angelic. “There is no mileage in winding the French up because you just set yourself up for a fall,” says England’s most-capped squad member. “The biggest way of hurting someone is pushing them back five metres. Mentally that’s very demoralising. And the days of the big enforcers have gone. You can’t just punch anyone any more. As soon as you get tied up in one-on-one battles, you’re adding nothing to the team.”

RIP the dark arts, it would seem. Hartley says there are too many cameras around, for starters. “Look at my track record, you can’t do anything!” he points out, using humour to deflect the usual questions (though, intriguingly, they were mostly left unspoken) about his past bans for gouging, biting and verbal abuse of a referee.

The truth is there will still be the sly tug, pinch in the privates or cross word that will never reach the spectators’ eyes and ears at the Stade de France next Saturday.

Equally, it has been heartening to see the 27-year-old Hartley much more mature in his dealings with opponents and referees this season. He quotes “a perfect example” from the Premiership, in which he has captained Northampton to vying with Saracens for top place. Northampton’s only loss in the league was at Gloucester in September when the referee Martin Fox made a couple of controversial decisions. Northampton went on to meet Bath at Franklin’s Gardens, and Fox had to replace the injured referee, Luke Pearce. “So Martin comes on and gets a big boo from the crowd,” Hartley recalls, “but I put an arm around him, gave him a smile and welcomed him. You can’t hold grudges, can you?”

The other reason for avoiding tomfoolery is the trial laws obliging hookers to concentrate on performing the action in the scrum that gave them their name. Again, Hartley has a smile – “striking is not that hard – the ball comes in and you kick it with your right foot” – but he in no way minimises the value of dominance, especially on the opposition put-in. “If I am up against a real heavy scrum, I will put my two feet on the deck and try and push over the ball. Talking about that first scrum, there is no point in being all fired up and thinking ‘we’re going to smash it’. All of a sudden you’ve given a free-kick because you’ve gone early. You do not want to get the referee thinking you are pushing your luck by bending the laws.”

Unusually, three of England’s  remaining Championship matches will be refereed by Frenchmen – Jérôme Garcès, Romain Poite and Pascal Gaüzère – with Craig Joubert of South Africa handling Ireland’s visit to Twickenham on the Championship’s middle weekend.

By then England will either be striding boldly with two wins and a team vested with more public backing and self-belief than any wearing the red rose since the 2003 World Cup, or they will be contemplating an 11th year in a row with no Grand Slam.

In Paris the whistler will be Wales’s Nigel Owens – occasionally too chatty at scrum time, but sharing with his Gallic counterparts a reputation for empathy with a strong scrummaging pack. “As a scrummaging unit the French are big and formidable,” says Stuart Lancaster, the England head coach. “Three of the Toulouse pack could be starting and we saw Saracens with quite a few England players finding it hard work against them recently.” Lancaster lists the ages of his forwards – Mako Vunipola, Joe Marler, Henry Thomas, Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes and Billy Vunipola are all under 25 – and you wonder at their suitability for the battle.

Then you remember Paris in 2012, when England’s defence and counter- attack ripped France asunder, scoring three tries to one in a 24-22 win. Hartley played in that match, and in five others against the French among his 50 Tests, including the 12-10 loss in 2010 when England’s front row had a rotten evening and he was substituted at half-time.

Hartley has, it is fair to say, just about seen it all. “The 2012 Six Nations was Stuart’s first,” he says. “Now we have come on as a team, we have a lot of structure to how we play and we can go to France with a bigger armoury – which is scarier, because two years ago we had no kind of pressure. If we do not get this match right, the rest of the campaign falls on its arse.”

The Hartley dossier

Team: Northampton Saints

Position: Hooker

Age: 27

Height: 1.85m (6’1”)

Weight: 110kg (17st 4lb)

Caps: 50

Tries: 1

Disciplinary record

April 2007: Banned for 26 weeks for eye-gouging Wasps forwards James Haskell and Jonny O’Connor.

March 2012: Banned for eight weeks for biting Ireland forward Stephen Ferris in Six Nations match.

December 2012: Banned for two weeks for punching Ulster hooker Rory Best in a Heineken Cup match.

May 2013: Sent off in the Aviva Premiership final and banned for 11 weeks after being found guilty of verbally abusing a match official Wayne Barnes.

 

Read more:
Six Nations: Dylan Hartley turns pacifist ahead of England-France match: ‘You can’t just punch anyone any more’
Six Nations: In our opinion – six pundits, one from each country, tell us who they think will win
Six Nations: The key factors that could decide the Championship
Six Nations: Wales eye a three-peat amid turmoil in the domestic game  
Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Voices
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv
voicesIt's cowardice to pretend this is anything other than an invasion
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
Al Pacino in ‘The Humbling’, as an ageing actor
filmHam among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
News
Fifi Trixibelle Geldof with her mother, Paula Yates, in 1985
people
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey fans rejoice, series five returns later this month
TV
Arts and Entertainment
booksExclusive extract from Howard Jacobson’s acclaimed new novel
News
i100
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

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor