Rugby Union

Northampton confident Dylan Hartley will be fit for autumn Tests

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Northampton Saints director of rugby Jim Mallinder believes hooker Dylan Hartley will be fit for England's autumn Tests despite missing the win over London Irish with a back injury, reports BBC Sport.

England head coach Stuart Lancaster has already seen some of his key players fall victim to injuries ahead of the clashes with New Zealand, South Africa, Samoa and Australia, which begin on November 8 when the All Blacks visit Twickenham.

Fellow hooker Tom Youngs will miss the Test matches with a shoulder problem, and Dan Coles, Mako Vunipola and Alex Corbisiero will also be sidelined.

Frustrating injury

Youngs' absence should pave the way for Hartley to start in the Number 10 role and Mallinder feels his back issue isn't serious enough to keep him from representing his country.

He told BBC Radio Northampton: "He's got a sore back - he did it passing the ball from the base of the scrum, so it wasn't a contact injury.

"Sometimes it is a bit frustrating, those things, and they take a bit of time. He trained Tuesday and he did it Wednesday morning."

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Imminent return

Mallinder expects both Hartley and international team-mate Tom Wood to return to action when Northampton host Sale in the Aviva Premiership on Saturday.

The Saints boss is also confident fly-half Lee Dickson will feature in the Sharks match, and on his injury he added: "It's towards his back. He didn't quite know how he got it. It's a bit sore but he's smiling and positive in there."

Little confidence

However, Mallinder recently said he felt confident Corbisiero would be fit for the clash with the world champions in a few weeks times, before the Saints prop was ruled out until the new year.

Lancaster therefore may take Mallinder's comments with a pinch of salt as he prepares to name his elite squad on October 22.

The England boss' preparations for the autumn Tests against the best sides the Southern Hemisphere has to offer have been hampered by constant speculation surrounding the fitness of his players.

He will be hoping he has the best squad available come November 8 as England look to begin the countdown to next year's Rugby World Cup in positive fashion.

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