Saints star Hartley revels in '˜special' England experience

Dylan Hartley skippered England to victory in ItalyDylan Hartley skippered England to victory in Italy
Dylan Hartley skippered England to victory in Italy
Dylan Hartley joked 'I live for one more week' as he reflected on a successful start to his England captaincy.

Hartley was a controversial appointment to lead the Red Rose throughout the RBS 6 Nations after amassing 54 weeks worth of suspensions for offences including biting, gouging and swearing at a referee.

The 29-year-old missed last autumn’s World Cup for butting, but he was able to celebrate a solid return to the team as England left Murrayfield as 15-9 winners over Scotland.

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“I got through it, didn’t I? I survived! I live on for one more week! On to the next one...’” Hartley said.

“Of course it made me realise how much I’ve missed it. I’ve been injured before and I’ve not always been in the front seat - I’ve been on the bench. Any time out of the shirt makes you cherish it and appreciate it when you’re in it.

“I didn’t take anything for granted. I closed my eyes at the anthems, I sucked it all up and it was one hell of an experience. I cherished it. It was special.

“I tried not to get caught up in all the stuff on the side, about leading the team out, the introductions to the team and the whole 16 minutes of time between the warm-ups to actually starting the game.

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“I just enjoyed being back out there and I enjoyed being part of a good side and a really responsive team. I’m very lucky to be at the head of it.”

Hartley appeared to suggest to referee John Lacey late in the first half that a player had made contact with his eyes, but the Northampton hooker later played down the incident.

“I think someone was getting the ball, they swiped for it (gestures across his face) and I was a bit miffed. It was nothing. At the time I was a bit, like, ‘Grrrr’ but it was nothing,” he said.

Once Hartley was replaced with four minutes to go, it was Owen Farrell who led the team.

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“It was a bit confusing because it was in my head that we have three vice-captains,” Hartley said.

“I told the referee ‘if you want to talk to anyone up front, Billy’s (Vunipola) there - if you can get some words out of him’.

“Billy was probably finding his lungs because he played a hell of an 80 and to the last minute he was still carrying and going forward.

“I said Owen in the backs, but the referee said I need someone so I said ‘Owen’, just to save Billy’s lungs.”