Skipper Hartley pledges his future to Saints

GOING NOWHERE - Saints skipper Dylan Hartley
GOING NOWHERE - Saints skipper Dylan Hartley

Dylan Hartley insists there is no chance he will change his mind over a big-money move to France, despite his England omission.

Hartley was dropped from the World Cup training squad after picking up a four-week ban for headbutting Saracens hooker Jamie George in the Aviva Premiership play-off semi-final at Franklin’s Gardens.

That would have ruled the Saints player out of England’s World Cup opener against Fiji, with Hartley not free to play again until September 21.

And Stuart Lancaster decided it was too big a risk to begin the campaign with three hookers.

But Hartley is refusing to give up on his England career and will not turn his back on Saints, stressing he remains loyal to the club and assuring fans the move to Montpellier that he turned down earlier this year is not back on the agenda.

“There has been speculation that I might change my mind about a big-money move to France, but no chance,” wrote the Saints skipper in his column in The Sun.

“Northampton is my club and they have always stood by me. Just because I have had a personal setback, it doesn’t mean you run away from ‘it all’.

“You front up and get on with it. That has always been my philosophy.”

And on his England future, Hartley said: “There is absolutely no truth at all in the speculation that I may quit international rugby.

“I feel I can still contribute and as long as Stuart Lancaster thinks that too, it’s all that matters.

“Everyone else can speculate as much as they want to but I am still only 29 and I believe I still have a lot to offer.

“Kevin Mealamu was 33 when he was New Zealand’s starting hooker in the 2011 World Cup final and is still going well at 36.

“By coincidence, I’ll be 33 when the 2019 World Cup is played, so who knows what the future holds?

“The conversation I had with Stuart will remain a private one. We are both clear on exactly where he and I stand on the matter. There is hope, though.

“Of course, what happens next depends on me sorting out my disciplinary issues. And actually, week to week, my discipline is fine.

“I’ve been unlucky with getting it wrong on the big stage a few times now.

“Maybe it’s down to emotions?

“I know that I care so much when I play and, the bigger the game, the harder I probably try.

“That, sometimes, has gone wrong — and my timing has never been good either.

“I don’t have a degree in psychology though so I’ll leave it up to the ‘experts’ to make their case and concentrate harder on trying to keep my emotions in check during those flashpoint moments.

“I can’t find the words to describe properly just how hurt and upset I am at what has happened.”

Hartley, who missed the 2013 Lions tour after being banned for 11 weeks for verbally abusing referee Wayne Barnes in the Premiership final, is now setting his sight on getting in peak condition for Saints’ pre-season campaign ahead of the Aviva Premiership kick-off on the weekend of October 16.

He said: “I’m not spending every minute of the day cursing my luck at being forced to miss a World Cup on home soil, just two years after another ban made me miss the Lions tour of Australia.

“My view is that if you dwell on it, play it over and over in your head, it will hold you back and depress you.

“So I’ve got to accept it and move on. Set new goals and targets and get to work.

“This is my situation. You deal with it and move on.

“I have a great network of friends and family who are always there in the bad times, which has always helped.

“Now I have to channel that hurt into training because, when the World Cup starts, I need to be in a good place fitness-wise in case of injuries.

“Luckily my four-week ban will have been lifted in time for Northampton’s opening pre-season fixture, so I can get myself match-fit and hopefully help the club at the same time.”

Hartley says he will be cheering England on and insists they are capable of winning the World Cup in his absence.

He said: “As much as I like to think I offer something positive to the squad, especially with 66 caps to my credit, I’ve got no doubt the boys are more than capable of repeating the 2003 World Cup triumph without me.

I was a small cog in a big machine — and my place in the team was never a certainty anyway!

“I certainly never took playing for England for granted.”