Saints so happy with Hartley's hard work

Dylan Hartley has been in good form for Saints during the past three matches (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
Dylan Hartley has been in good form for Saints during the past three matches (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
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He might not have been handed a seat on the plane to New Zealand - but there is no doubt that Dylan Hartley has done everything he could to be given a Lions shirt in recent weeks.

Since returning to Saints after leading England to the Six Nations title, the hooker has been an important presence in his club’s squad.

Making up for time lost due to injury and suspension earlier in the season, Hartley has given everything for the cause during the past three games.

Starting against Leicester, Wasps and Saracens, he helped to put his team in a position from which they should have won the game.

His leadership capabilities have been there for all to see, with him constantly cajoling those around him and patting young players such as Rory Hutchinson and Harry Mallinder on the back in a bid to bring the best out of them.

So impressive has Hartley been that he’s managed to keep one of Saints’ stars of the season, top scorer Mike Haywood, out of the starting shirt.

And there is no doubt that even though Warren Gatland didn’t want him for this summer’s Lions tour of New Zealand, Saints are still very happy with their man.

“I thought Dylan had a really good game against Saracens,” said Jim Mallinder. “I was very impressed with him.

“He did all his basics well. He threw in well, he carried and made some good tackles. He was physical.

“I was really pleased with him.

“He was injured early on in the season and he worked really hard to get himself fit for the Six Nations and he’s improving every single week.”

Hartley capped his recent good work for Saints by grabbing his first try of the season in the agonising 27-25 defeat to Saracens at Stadium MK.

He was a picture of consistency in the set piece and that ability to be sound in the key areas could be something the Lions miss by not choosing him.

Having said that, Gatland still has three very good men to choose from, with Ireland’s Rory Best, Wales hooker Ken Owens and Hartley’s England deputy, Jamie George, selected.

Hartley will now focus on helping Saints to finish in the Premiership top six with two games of the regular season to go.

Jim Mallinder’s men must travel to Exeter Chiefs on Saturday before squaring up to Harlequins on the final day of the season.

And Hartley will be desperate to ensure he and his club-mates are playing top-flight European rugby next season.

Then it will be off to Argentina for the England skipper as his country face two Tests against Los Pumas in June.

But first, that bid to ensure Saints don’t slip out of the top six.

As Hartley said recently: “The priority for us is to be playing top-flight rugby next year.

“It’s all to play for and it’s a good place to be because if we were further down the table we could just clock off, but this keeps it competitive. It keeps us working for something.”

Hartley has certainly been no stranger to hard work during his career, bouncing back from numerous setbacks.

And you can bet he will deal with the Lions omission with typical determination.