Skipper Hartley still dreaming of lifting the Premiership trophy

WALK OF SHAME - Dylan Hartley leaves the Twickenham pitch after being sent off in the Aviva Premiership final last May (Pictures: Sharon Lucey)
WALK OF SHAME - Dylan Hartley leaves the Twickenham pitch after being sent off in the Aviva Premiership final last May (Pictures: Sharon Lucey)
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Dylan Hartley says he wakes up thinking about the Premiership final.

But it is not his dismissal in the defeat to Leicester last May that disturbs his sleep, it is the possibility that Saints will return to Twickenham in a couple of weeks’ time.

Aviva Premiership Rugby Final at Twickenham. 'Leicester Tigers V Northampton Saints. 'Dylan Hartley leaving the field after being sent off. ENGNNL00120130528122534

Aviva Premiership Rugby Final at Twickenham. 'Leicester Tigers V Northampton Saints. 'Dylan Hartley leaving the field after being sent off. ENGNNL00120130528122534

“There’s not a day when I have not thought about the Premiership final,” said Hartley, talking to the assembled media while sitting in the front row of the Church’s Stand at Franklin’s Gardens.

“I thought about that all the time. I sometimes wake up about it. Not looking back, but looking forward.

“My whole season has been geared around making that Premiership final again and lifting a trophy for the club.

“It’s not because of last year but because we have had such a successful season.

Aviva Premiership Rugby Final at Twickenham. 'Leicester Tigers V Northampton Saints. 'Referee Wayne Barnes sending Dylan Hartley off. ENGNNL00120130528122442

Aviva Premiership Rugby Final at Twickenham. 'Leicester Tigers V Northampton Saints. 'Referee Wayne Barnes sending Dylan Hartley off. ENGNNL00120130528122442

“When you look on paper, we have made an A League final, an LV=Cup final, an Amlin final and we are in the play-offs for the Premiership final.

“Traditionally, before the international period we have slipped off the gas, but this year we have got better and better.

“The pressure we put ourselves under at the club, yes at the start of the season we say we are going to be a top-four side but the next thing to measure our success is a trophy really.

“We can’t keep saying success is being a top-four side.

“In a lot of clubs’ mind that would be good enough, but here we have been there enough now to say a trophy is the only thing to measure our success on.”

Jim Mallinder’s men are just one game away from making it back to Twickenham, where they lost 37-17 to Leicester in the showpiece last May.

On that day, Hartley saw red at the end of the first half, with referee Wayne Barnes accusing the Saints skipper of calling him a ‘cheat’.

It left Hartley’s team with a mountain to climb and, though they battled bravely during the second half, the outcome was inevitable.

Leicester claimed the glory and Saints were left to wonder what might have been.

This Friday, they get the chance to banish those demons by beating Leicester in the semi-finals and setting up another shot at the silverware.

“If I kept thinking back I would always be miserable,” joked Hartley when asked whether he still muses over that fateful day last May.

“It is about goal setting. When you get up on Monday morning and you go into work and you have had a good win at the weekend it’s like ‘things are going good, things are going good’.

“But now it’s crunch time. If things don’t go right this Friday then you have to wait another year and those away victories in the last kick of the game at Wasps, the draw at Leicester.

“Me and Dows (Phil Dowson) and Tom Wood stand up in the meeting room every Monday and Tuesday, saying come on let’s go again, trust me it will all be worth it at the end of the season.

“Now that we are here we have to make sure that we make it worthwhile.”

And how Hartley would love to be part of the charge, as his team aim to go one better than last season.

But the England hooker has a problem - a fractured shoulder blade, to be precise - and that will keep him out of Friday night’s play-off semi-final against Leicester at Franklin’s Gardens.

“I was hoping to play this week,” said Hartley, who sustained the injury in Saints’ Premiership defeat to Leicester on March 29. “It is a matter of days.

“From my point of view, there’s no point coming back too early with big games, hopefully, ahead.

“We have already booked one final (the Amlin Challenge Cup clash with Bath on May 23) and hopefully after this week we will have another one.

“A bit further down the line there’s the (England) tour (of New Zealand) obviously. For me I am taking it day by day and I’m progressing day by day as well. We are close.”

And he added: “They (the medical staff) said six to eight weeks and coaches and myself hear six weeks so then you think ‘I’m a sportsman, I can get back in four weeks’. But no, we are at six weeks. That’s why I was hoping to play this week and that’s why I always said I would try to play this week.

So, if it was the last game of the season, would Hartley take the risk?

“Yeah, I would go for it,” he said emphatically. “I don’t know if Jim (Mallinder) would pick me but of course I would go for it. That could be detrimental to the team too – first tackle and you dislocate your shoulder. That’s the risk physios have painted to me.

“It is all very well having the bigger muscles functioning but if you have not got the smaller muscles there to look after your shoulder blade and the stability side of it, one wrong tackle and you can dislocate your shoulder.”