England hooker Dylan Hartley has told GiveMeSport that competition could hold the key to success for England at next year’s World Cup.
The Northampton Saints captain has forced his way back into the international fold after a period in the wilderness, and appears in pole position for the number two jersey this autumn after starting the third and final test in New Zealand back in June.
That came just weeks after he’d lifted the Aviva Premiership trophy with the Saints - a moment of vindication after his red card in the final 12 months previous, but one that also gave Rob Webber an opportunity to impress in the opening test match against the All Blacks.
Hartley acknowledges that his Bath counterpart took his opportunity when it arose, but dismisses the suggestion that it’s bad news for him personally. In fact, the 28-year-old believes it might just get the best out of him this season.
“Yes he did,” Hartley tells GiveMeSport simply when asked if he thought Webber did well for England in New Zealand.
"This game is all about opportunities and taking them when they present themselves.
"Competition is healthy though, and pushes me to improve my own game and make my mark when I play and get the chance.”
Hartley has certainly been making his mark for all the right reasons over the past 12 months following a dramatic change in fortunes for the forward, whose previous indiscretions had threatened to overshadow his career.
His red card for swearing at an official in the 2013 showpiece at Twickenham cost him his place on the Lions tour that followed, but the 56-cap reassessed his goals and targets and now believes he is on the road to success for club and country.
Motivation to achieve
“No, it wasn’t hard to motivate myself after missing the Lions tour. My goals were to win the Premiership and re-establish myself within the England setup. I'd like to think I've done that,” he adds.
That certainly has been the case, having replaced Tom Youngs as first-choice hooker last autumn before leading the Saints to that elusive title.
Hartley's stint back in New Zealand as part of Stuart Lancaster’s squad was, in many ways, the icing on the cake for the former Worcester man after an incredible year of ups and downs, and he also got to spend some time with his family on returning to the nation of his birth.
Relax with family
"My family all live in New Zealand so it was nice to holiday there after the tour. It was great to see everyone, as I only see them once every few years or so,” he concluded.
“It was all excitement; I attended my grandparents diamond wedding anniversary and fed the cows. Crazy and adrenaline fuelled whilst recharging the batteries for the new season!”
It certainly paid off, with Northampton winning their opener against Gloucester as they look to defend the title. And, with Hartley back on song, it would take a brave man to bet against it.
As for the hooker’s role at the World Cup in 2015 and Lions tour in 2017, that remains to be seen, but it’s going to take something special to stop a focused Hartley achieving his new goals.