Dylan Hartley exclusive: Saints expecting tough Aviva Premiership defence

Hartley cannot wait to attempt to defend the club's first-ever Premiership title (©GettyImages)

Northampton Saints captain Dylan Hartley expects his side's Aviva Premiership rivals will all be gunning for them when the season begins at the weekend.

The Saints clinched their first-ever title championship with a thrilling victory over Saracens in May and Hartley knows his team will be the ones to beat this time around.

He told GiveMeSport: "As a team we've been chasing this title for a long time and we know how it feels to play the current champions.

"We've had that in recent years against Saracens, Harlequins and Leicester - you know you have to raise your game significantly.

"The added incentive of beating the current champions is a nice scalp and we have to expect that from every team this year."

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Preparation

Saints have enjoyed a decent pre-season, with narrow wins over Rotherham and Leinster - as well as a more emphatic victory over Moseley and a defeat to Welsh outfit Newport Gwent Dragons.

Hartley - who has 56 caps for England - however feels that results mean little in the build-up to the main event.

"Pre-season is all about finding your feet and getting the body ready for the start of the season," he said.

"That said, all pre-season games will never be the same as a competitive game.

"Our preparation has gone well but you can't read too much into pre-season results. It certainly won't define our season."

Anticipation

The anticipation and excitement has been building with the new season just around the corner, and Saints are looking forward to carrying the mantle of defending champions for the first time.

The 28-year old admits he cannot wait to get started - and revealed a somewhat surprising personal reason as to why he is especially looking forward to getting the brand new campaign underway.

He added: "We're all raring to go - now that the competition begins we actually get some time off in the week!

"Pre-season is all about long days and hard work, now that games have started we focus on the weekend and have our routine during the week. Everyone loves a day off!"

Hartley's men get the 2014-15 season started when they host Gloucester on Friday evening.

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