Belfast Telegraph

Friday 1 August 2014

Hartley aims to make up lost ground

Dylan Hartley knows he has a job on his hands to break into the England starting line-up

Dylan Hartley accepts Tom Youngs is now England's first choice hooker but the Northampton captain is ready to argue his own case for selection over the coming weeks.

Saints travel to midlands rivals Leicester on Saturday for a high-profile Aviva Premiership derby that Hartley knows offers the stage to claw back some of the ground lost to Youngs last summer.

While Youngs was winning three caps for the British and Irish Lions in their triumphant series against Australia, Hartley was at home ruminating over his red card in May's league final - also against the Tigers - that ultimately forced him to withdraw from the tour before it had begun.

England head coach Stuart Lancaster is sure to favour Youngs this autumn, but Hartley will be looking to challenge his thinking when he runs out at Welford Road and competes in two rounds of Heineken Cup action.

"My rivalry with Tom is professional and friendly. I don't go around his house for Sunday roast or anything but we're friends," Hartley said.

"I understand my position at the moment. I see him as the front runner for the England two shirt, going on from his performance with the Lions.

"I accept he's first choice at the moment. I'm in the squad, I'm part of the team, but you've got to understand your place sometimes.

"In the same breath I want to play, I want to get back in that team. That's just the way it is. I've got to get my head down and work.

"It's up to me to press my case for a spot. There's a pretty good chance to do that this weekend and in these big Heineken Cup games.

"Leicester are the champions of England, Castres are the champions of France. Two big weeks, two big challenges."

Hartley was suspended for 11 weeks after being sent off for verbally abusing referee Wayne Barnes in last season's 37-17 defeat at Twickenham.

The 27-year-old subsequently confessed that watching Northampton succumb to Leicester while he sat powerless in the stands was harder to take than missing out on the Lions tour.

A hostile reception awaits at Welford Road in the clubs' first meeting since their Twickenham showdown and Hartley is ready for the venom that will come his way.

"We have forgotten about last season, we aren't looking back at the final," Hartley said.

"It's a local derby, a big game, the fans love it. As a player you are always going to be playing hard and always be passionate.

"We're going away from home to an environment I can imagine being quite hostile.

"I can imagine I'll probably get a bit of jip from the Leicester supporters, but it's nothing I haven't had before.

"I'll just concentrate on my own game and hopefully we'll get a good team performance."

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