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Six Nations: Disciplined England Hooker Hartley Proves Critics Wrong

BAGSHOT, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 23: Dylan Hartley, the England captain looks on during the England training session held at Pennyhill Park on February 23, 2016 in Bagshot, England. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

240 minutes. That’s how many minutes Dylan Hartley has played for England this Six Nations and the number of minutes he was gone without a yellow card or even a penalty.

Ever since rumours started spreading about the prospect of Eddie Jones selecting the formerly ill-disciplined Hartley to take over the captaincy, the media and many fans have been repeatedly harking on about Hartley’s record and how it could impact on England’s prospects this season, and yet his first proper stint as England captain sees him unbeaten, at the top of the current Six Nations pile and with a crystal clean series of performances.

However, when Hartley’s international disciplinary record is compared to that of Tom Youngs, they are almost on a par. Despite receiving 13 yellow cards across his Northampton career, he has only ever received three for England.

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 26:  Tom Youngs of Leicester prepares to throw the ball during the Aviva Premiership match between Leicester Tigers and Newcastle Falcons at Welford Road on December 26, 2015 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Yet the way Hartley was vilified in the press discarded his time on the pitch and ignored what he had achieved. Having won the Premiership title with Northampton Saints back in 2014, Hartley has already proved he is an accomplished leader and capable of leading a team to domestic honours.

Those critics seem to be conspicuous by their silence since Hartley’s rise to the captaincy and instead appear to be awaiting the moment when they hope he will inevitably allow the red mist to descend and have to trot off the pitch.

Hartley’s greatest challenge awaits him next when he will play a Wales team similarly desperate to put behind a disappointing World Cup (although that has more to do with Wales’ colossal injury list than England’s inept performances).

during the England training session held at Pennyhill Park on February 25, 2016 in Bagshot, England.

Back in 2011, Warren Gatland targeted Hartley in the build up to Wales versus England at the Millennium Stadium. Concentrating on Hartley’s line-out throwing abilities, Gatland told the BBC:

“England’s line-out imploded a bit against South Africa in the autumn and a couple of weeks ago Hartley went to pieces playing for Northampton at Leicester. Kiwis have been known to crack under pressure and choke. So let’s hope he does on Feb 4.”

However, Hartley responded with a perfect performance at the set-piece and England went on to win 19-26, England’s first win in Cardiff since 2003. Now Hartley will have to carry on in the same vein as his first three games in charge and put in a clean and clinical performance against the team that has best embodied efficiency and a clinical edge in the Six Nations since 2007.

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 27:  Dylan Hartley of England in action during the RBS Six Nations match between England and Ireland at Twickenham Stadium on February 27, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

England’s captain responds fiercely to criticism and pointedly referred to the media’s focus on his own issues rather than those of the team at a press conference before the tournament began:

“Everyone else got to talk about their teams but we get to talk about me,” he told the Daily Mail.

He’s taken the challenge to prove his doubters wrong and come out all smiles. Now he has a chance to once again show his problems at club level are irrelevant to his England performances and to put England in pole position for a first Six Nations Championship title since 2011 and a first Grand Slam since 2003.

A fourth win on the trot for a developing England side under a new coach against a settled Wales team well versed in Gatland’s methods would be a significant achievement and a magnificent milestone on the way to the redemption of this prodigal son.

Prove the doubters wrong, Dylan.

Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena

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Author: The PA Team

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