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England abandon changing room walk "sideshow"

Published 26/02/2016

Dylan Hartley and England are trying to move on from their World Cup disaster
Dylan Hartley and England are trying to move on from their World Cup disaster

England will continue to reverse Stuart Lancaster's cultural revolution when they return to the setting for last autumn's World Cup failure after Dylan Hartley dismissed the extended walk to the changing room as a "sideshow".

Eddie Jones' men are to play their first match at Twickenham since they were dumped out of the global showpiece by Australia in October when Ireland visit for Saturday's RBS 6 Nations showdown.

Among the initiatives introduced by Lancaster, Jones' predecessor as head coach, to bring England closer to their supporters after a string of reputation-damaging episodes that tainted the Red Rose was for the team to disembark earlier from their bus on arrival.

They would then walk among throngs of fans, through the Lion Gate to the entrance of their changing room in the hope of drawing inspiration from the adulation greeting their arrival.

Jones has asked his players if they want to continue with the procedure and Hartley has requested the team bus stop as close to its final destination as possible.

"It's all hype, it's all sideshow. The support is brilliant and I love the fact we're in our changing rooms, familiar territory," the captain said.

"We're at home, our turf. But it's all build-up, sideshow. It's not the game. All we are worrying about is winning the game. We can enjoy the crowd and the supporters after the game.

"We've made our decision. What's the closest we can get? The gates? We'll still be able to walk through the crowds.

"It's an extra 20 metres. James Haskell told me he got puffed walking up the stairs the other day so the last 20 metres is better for him!

"We just want to get into the changing rooms. It's just an extra...look, we know the support is there. All week we know the support's there.

"We can see out of the windows of the bus that the support's there. Personally, I just want to get into the changing room.

"I've talked to my senior players who want to get into the changing room and get the job under way. We can walk through the crowds afterwards."

England had already dispensed with the Arthur Harrison award given to the best defender in each game - chocolate is now handed the outstanding performer - and the inspirational quotes that adorned the walls of the high performance centre have been removed.

In a further departure from the Lancaster regime, players are entrusted to socialise and drink alcohol - a development that has been well received - and are to spend fallow weeks outside the squad's isolated training camp in Surrey.

But the interior of the changing rooms, which carry a variety of historical signposts to England's past, has so far been left intact.

"I don't know if there have been any changes there, I haven't been consulted on that," said Hartley, Chris Robshaw's successor as captain.

"It's just a changing room. It's OUR changing room which is familiar and that's nice, but come match day, I'm not thinking about what's written on the wall.

"Instead, I'm thinking about my job, the expectations of us as a team and how we want to go out and win."

England face the first genuine test of their Six Nations title pretensions when they clash with Ireland after producing solid, if not spectacular, away victories over Scotland and Italy.

A win over the reigning champions would demonstrate that Jones' England are on the right track and Hartley speaks of a squad that is drawing ever closer together.

"Everyone that is here wants to be here. We don't have a day off any more, we have this thing called a recovery day," Hartley said.

"What that does mean is that on a Tuesday afternoon you can't get in your car, drive two hours to Northampton, seize up in your car and drive back Wednesday night and say you can't train because your hips and back are tight.

"Wednesday morning we get up, go to the swimming pool together and have stretch classes together. The more time we spend together the more we create a club environment.

"So naturally you form relationships and bonds with people you probably wouldn't if you were having to go home.

"Eddie wants to create an environment where it's exclusive and a sacrifice to be here.

"One player has a new-born baby and I have a six-month-old. I find it hard being away from mine, imagine what that player is like with the missus on the phone saying: 'I've got two kids here, one is pretty fresh, I need your help!' But he has to say he has work to do.

"You create an environment of sacrifice. If you don't want to be here, put your hand up and say.

"For me, as a captain, having players that make those sacrifices to be here and buy into it - that's 99 per cent of the job done. No one is pulling away from the group.

"Naturally when you spend time together, the more you get to know each other, the more fun you have and you break down those barriers of Leicester v Northampton. It's all good."

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