Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Mallinder has faith in Hartley

Dylan Hartley will continue as Northampton captain

Northampton director of rugby Jim Mallinder has backed Dylan Hartley to handle the pressure after deciding to stick with the firebrand hooker as club captain for the new season.

Hartley was sent off in the Aviva Premiership final for verbally abusing referee Wayne Barnes, and his subsequent 11-week ban cost him a place on the British and Irish Lions tour.

The England hooker has also served lengthy suspensions for biting and eye-gouging, and Mallinder had to think long and hard about whether to re-appoint him as captain.

But the Saints boss was convinced Hartley has learned a brutally tough lesson from his Twickenham red card and, crucially, has the temperament to cope with the inevitable scrutiny he will be under this season.

Mallinder said: "In big games in front of 80,000 people there is a lot of stress on everybody concerned and what happened shouldn't have happened, but we all make mistakes. We learn and move on and make sure our mistakes don't happen again.

"If you look at what Dylan lost it is massive. He was very conscious of his contribution and how it affected the side on that day - he is very aware of that.

"He is very aware of missing out on the Lions tour, which would have been a once-in-a-lifetime trip with a good chance for him to start in one or more of those Tests.

"He has gone through it - it was a hard lesson to learn but I think he will learn that lesson.

"We didn't jump to it. We took a lot of time to decide what was the right thing. I spoke to a lot of people, the coaches and a lot of the senior players and Dylan for a long time.

"He has captained the side for the last four seasons and he is an outstanding leader. He is not too old but is very experienced and we decided he was the right man to take us forward."

Both England and Northampton coaches speak highly of Hartley's leadership qualities, but that reputation sits at odds with his chequered disciplinary record.

Mallinder suggested the best players are always liable to step over the mark because of the intensity and passion with which they play, but that Hartley needs to keep his emotions in check.

"You don't want any of your players overstepping the mark but history tells us that some of the very best players occasionally do go over the edge a little bit," he said.

"You don't want that - you want them to play on the edge but not over it. Sometimes they push it too far.

"He is a top-class international hooker and he is still relatively young in terms of that position and I see him getting better than he is now.

"He has had to cope with a lot in the past. People have always tried to wind him up and make him react. He has had that in the past and he has reacted really well.

"I can think of some really big European games where we have come up against teams who have clearly targeted him and he has coped. He has turned the other cheek and carried on and he needs a bit more of that.

"He needs to understand where he is and just get on with his job."

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