Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Hartley: This is my last chance

Dylan Hartley will retain the Northampton captaincy
Dylan Hartley will retain the Northampton captaincy

Dylan Hartley has ruled out consulting a sports psychologist to help address the red mist that has forced England coach Stuart Lancaster to issue him a final warning over his repeated misconduct.

The Northampton captain was suspended for 11 weeks after being sent off for verbally abusing referee Wayne Barnes in last season's defeat by Leicester in the Aviva Premiership final.

Added to previous biting, gouging and punching offences, Hartley has now been banned for a total of 45 weeks in his career, and, critically, his latest brush with the disciplinary authorities forced him to miss the victorious British and Irish Lions tour to Australia.

Lancaster included him in England's latest elite player squad only after being convinced a new leaf would be turned.

Hartley, 27, accepts a tipping point has been reached with what he regards as the worst experience of his rugby career.

"I don't need a sports psychologist, but my approach to dealing with referees has to change," he said the Aviva Premiership launch at Twickenham.

"I can understand how the incident was interpreted. I did say what I said, but I stand by what I said in that I know who I was talking to or about (Hartley claims his words were not directed at Barnes).

"I've heard much worse in the front row. In terms of how it was interpreted I have to look at that and understand how it got to that point.

"I sat down with Stuart and we had a chat. It wasn't about him telling me, but I understand that he can't keep giving me a chance.

"People can't keep giving me a chance and I'm basically on my last chance in the England set-up. That's fully understood."

Missing out on the Lions was heart-breaking but it was the impact Hartley's actions had on Northampton in their 37-17 defeat by Midlands rivals Leicester that hurt most.

"I did not have to pack all my bags for the Lions because that had already been done for me," he said.

"I was sent my Lions kit the other day and I don't know what to do with it - maybe I'll auction it (for charity) in the paper.

"I was more upset about the team and the loss in the final because that affected other people. The Lions ultimately affected me.

"I was on holiday for the Lions tour so I didn't have a TV to watch it on, but I kept in touch with it on social media.

"Obviously I still had friends playing on it and I stayed in touch with (Northampton prop) Alex Corbisiero."

Strong support was provided by Northampton with director of rugby Jim Mallinder opting to retain him as club captain ahead of Tom Wood, who led England with distinction on their summer tour to Argentina.

Hartley was ready to step down from the post but had extensive backing at Saints, while the general response on social media to his latest suspension has been "mixed".

"Jim and I talked, we had a few coffees. I was aware that from the outside people might want to see change in the captaincy," Hartley said.

"Also with the new signings and management, I thought we should start afresh, but I didn't make the decision, it was made for me.

"I was open to stepping down but Jim talked me out of it and said we want you to do it, I back you, the board backs you and the lads back you.

"Generally the people in Northampton are really supportive. I've never had anyone come up to my face and say what they think. It's usually someone hiding behind a keyboard.

"I've dealt with a few things before, so I know how to deal with all that crap."

Mallinder expects Hartley's leadership to benefit from the experience.

"It wasn't a decision that we jumped at or made immediately," said Mallinder ahead of Northampton's Premiership opener against Exeter on Saturday week.

"There were lots of discussions with Dylan and other people and we all came to the same conclusion and that's that Dylan is the best player to lead our team.

"He's done it over the last four years, has experience of it. He's grown into the player he is.

"We've all made mistakes - Dylan has - but we all have to move on. I believe Dylan will be a better captain for what he's gone through. And a better player and person."

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