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Dylan Hartley returns from injury without incident in Northampton win

England captain Dylan Hartley is "fit and well" after coming through his first few minutes of rugby in almost two months.

Hartley was knocked unconscious during England's RBS 6 Nations Championship Grand Slam-winning clash with France and, according to Northampton Saints director of rugby Jim Mallinder, he has been champing at the bit to get going.

The hooker came on for Mickey Haywood as his side secured European Champions Cup qualification for next season with a 28-20 Aviva Premiership victory at Gloucester's Kingsholm, scoring three tries through centre George Pisi and two from Wales wing George North.

Fly-half Stephen Myler booted 13 points with three penalties and two conversions while all of Gloucester's points came in the first half as replacement full-back Lloyd Evans and flanker Ross Moriarty grabbed tries and Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw, playing in an unaccustomed fly-half role rather than his regular scrum-half position, booted two penalties and two conversions.

With Northampton out of the end-of-season Premiership play-offs, Hartley's only chance for a decent run-out before the England tour to Australia will be in the Test match with Wales at the end of this month.

While Mallinder thought Hartley would rather rest in the summer, joking about sitting in a deckchair, he said: "Dylan has been frustrated that he has not been able to play.

"He has been injured and taken his time. He has not rushed it and he probably needs a bit more game time to get back up to speed but we are delighted to see him back."

Mallinder was left frustrated by Northampton's inability to get into the play-offs.

He said: "It is a satisfying win but we are not getting carried away because we want to finish in the top four.

"It is the first time in a few years that we have not done that but we have to regroup. You reset your targets and that was to beat Bath and to beat Gloucester and to qualify in fifth position and so we are pleased that we have managed that.

"The season, with the Premiership starting late due to the Rugby World Cup, was a disruption, added Mallinder.

"It did not help us but if you want to get into the top four, you have got to go away to Worcester, London Irish and Newcastle and you can't be losing by a point or two which is what we did.

"The first half here was one of our most uncontrolled performances that we have done away from home in the Premiership. I am glad we recovered."

It was a tough way for Gloucester to end their own season, slumping to eighth in the table without qualifying for either the play-offs or the top tier of European Cup rugby.

Director of rugby David Humphreys said: "For the first 35 minutes, we were playing really well with ambition and accuracy.

"To build up a 20 points lead, that is time for us to kick on and win the game.

"Credit to Northampton, they came back but two of their tries came off our line-outs which is disappointing.

"It is not the reason we lost the game but it is very disappointing to finish the season like that."


From Belfast Telegraph