Last year was a funny one for Dylan Hartley. It started well with a victorious Six Nations, in which he began all of Englands five games. Then came the fourth placed finish in the Premiership with Northampton, which sadly ended in a disappointing loss to Leicester the Semi-Final at Twickenham. Equally unsatisfactory was the second half collapse in the European Cup final loss to Leinster a few weeks later. The following Autumn, the 25 year old hooker flew out to his native New Zealand for the Rugby World Cup. A much documented campaign saw England fizzle out on the pitch whilst picking up headlines for the wrong reason off it. Hartley, whilst not the worst off-field offender was certainly ‘mentioned in dispatches’ as the saying goes. On the playing front, he found himself as second-fiddle to Steve Thompson, spending most of his time on the bench with little chance to shine.
His year ended on a high though, with a contract extension for Northampton, now taking him through to 2015. Despite a rollercoaster year in 2011 he is now tipped to captain England for, at least, the opening two games of the Six Nations tournament. Popular opinion cites a ‘perfect storm’ of a new coach, a huge injury list and various retirements as the sole reason Hartley is being considered. That opinion however, fails to recognise the qualities that Dylan Hartley would bring to the role and the maturity he has shown recently. He’s a player growing in stature and the Captaincy should be given to him not through circumstance but through merit.
As combative as they come on the field, he has now seemingly put the discipline problems he had in his early years behind him. Whilst still maintaining his obvious aggressive streak he has matured into a disciplined leader who can marshall his pack, do damage to the opposition and critically, stay out of the sin bin. His club, Northampton Saints, were quick to recognise this shift and rewarded Hartley with the Captaincy at the beginning of the 2009-10 season. At the time it was an eyebrow raising decision but he has gone on to justify the faith placed in him. Leading the club from the front he has seen them rise from National Division One to be a force in both the Premiership and on the European Stage.
Those same eyebrows will surely rise if and when Dylan Hartley is handed the England captaincy. He will however prove his doubters wrong. Why? Because The PUMA athlete is a much more mature, controlled and inspirational player than ever before. Given the chance it will be the making of the player, the man and crucially, the England Captain that Dylan Hartley will eventually be.