Dylan Hartley hopes to hand England boost ahead of All Blacks tour
Northampton captain Dylan Hartley could hand England head coach Stuart Lancaster a boost ahead of summer tour
Dylan Hartley could hand England head coach Stuart Lancaster a boost as he nears return from a shoulder injury sustained in March.
The Northampton Saints captain is expected to miss Friday’s Aviva Premiership semi-final clash against East Midlands rivals Leicester Tigers.
I am taking it day by day and I’m progressing day by day. We are close
But the talismanic hooker has already eyed up playing in at least one final before joining his England colleagues on the plane to his native New Zealand.
“I was hoping to play this week,” said Hartley. “It is a matter of days. There’s no point coming back too early with big games, hopefully, ahead.
“We have already booked one final and hopefully after this week we will have another one. A bit further down the line there’s the tour, obviously.
“I am taking it day by day and I’m progressing day by day. We are close.”
Hartley fractured his shoulder blade against the Tigers when they last met in a typically feisty affair at the end of March but, having not yet returned to full training, the 28-year-old could also miss the Amlin Challenge Cup final against Bath in Cardiff on 23 May.
For Hartley, who was enjoying a good run of form earlier this year before his injury, there is extra motivation to make the tour to show friends and family back home what he can do on a rugby field.
“This is first time I’ve really toured New Zealand,” he added. “I went before but didn’t play and the World Cup is not a tour. For me, it is three games, potentially, against the world number ones and, for me, I want to leave a good marker there; make a good impression.
“Everyone I went to school with, all my friends and family, all these people who haven’t really seen me play rugby, that’s why I want to leave a good account. I want them to think that, ‘Yeah, he’s ok’. I want to leave with my head held high.”
As England’s first-choice hooker, Hartley is almost assured of his place on the tour if he can return to fitness and get a run-out.
But with Lancaster already hit by the loss of Leicester’s Tom Youngs and Bath’s Rob Webber he could be risked even if he fails to make it for the end of the club season.
“I would imagine [the coaches] would like that and I would like that as well. I would not want to go straight into a Test match without playing some rugby,” Hartley said, despite making the most of his time on the sidelines to improve lower body fitness.
“I feel refreshed. It is quite nice because after the Six Nations I felt a bit mentally tired. I have actually enjoyed stepping back and watching some games, but then you want to help out with these big games. At the crunch time of the season, you want to get back and play.
“I have actually enjoyed stepping back and things like ankles, knees and back problems have all disappeared. I have got a good bit of conditioning and lost a bit of weight. I feel in good fitness. Other than that I am just waiting on the shoulder.”