Hartley hoping for Best showdown
Rory Best takes on Dylan Hartley during the Six Nations match in Twickenham last year. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Rugby:England hooker Dylan Hartley would relish the chance to lock horns with Ireland opposite number Rory Best again in a bid to lay down a marker for British and Irish Lions Test selection this summer. Hartley is pushing hard for a recall to the England starting line-up for Sunday’s Six Nations clash in Dublin, having returned from injury via the bench in the win against Scotland.
Should Hartley and Best come face to face on Sunday, Lions coach Warren Gatland will be watching the hooking battle intently, as the duo are the leading contenders to start against Australia this summer. Hartley not only views every Six Nations contest as a Lions selection head-to-head — but also every training session following the rapid emergence of Youngs as a top-class rival.
“The Lions is like a big bonus isn’t it? It’s something to work for,” Hartley said. “We have a big chance with England as well. We’d all love to lift the trophy. That in itself is pretty exciting. The Six Nations is your stage to perform. Every week it’s your rival (you are up against) — even Tom here with England. I understand that.
“I understand that I’ve got seven weeks to give myself a good crack at it. I’ve got my head round that and I’m highly motivated. I have played against Rory Best once this year for Northampton against Ulster. He is a key man in their team. They have got plenty of class throughout and he is key to their success up front.”
Hartley recalls with a grimace the last time England went to Dublin in the Six Nations, when Ireland blew away their dreams of winning the Grand Slam with a ferocious performance. Although most of the England team has changed since that 24-8 defeat, Hartley will make sure the newcomers realise just what awaits them in the Aviva Stadium.
“You can take points from that experience and there are other players in the squad who experienced that. All we can do is share that with the current crop,” Hartley said. “It was the intensity which stood out. I remember the first scrum of the game and we got rolled, they got a big shunt on and the crowd goes wild. I remember my first carry of the game and I got held in the choke tackle, ball turned over.
“If you look at the way they started the game against Wales at the weekend, they put a big emphasis on that. We need to front up emotionally. You need to be right in the head.”
Hartley and Best came to blows when they met in that Heineken Cup fixture at Franklin’s Gardens, with the England hooker receiving a two week ban after losing his cool in the Saints’ defeat. The 26-year-old was also banned for eight weeks following last year’s Six Nations game against Ireland, after being found to have bitten Stephen Ferris on the hand.
Hartley has been spoken to by the England management of his discipline and he is confident he can keep his cool in the furnace of a Dublin test match.
“The last one was down to frustration, the team not playing well, myself not playing well and not thinking and just reacting,” Hartley said. “It is a thinking process. I feel like I am in control. If anyone is (targeting me) it is short-sighted because as soon as you focus your energies on someone else you are not concentrating on yourself.”