Hewitt: Hartley will be out to prove a point at Saints

Dylan Hartley (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
Dylan Hartley (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

Team manager Paul Shields posed the question on Twitter: just who would be the first Saints player to report back for pre-season training?

Jon Fisher and Christian Day were among the answers to be given, while one follower insisted big forwards were an unlikely choice, tweeting ‘It won’t be a front 5 #fact #beasted’.

But it was to be a member of Saints’ front five.

Not Day, but Dylan.

Skipper Dylan Hartley was first past the post as he returned to Franklin’s Gardens to get stuck into preparations for the new season.

The hooker has probably already endured a long enough spell on the sidelines after last season ended with a suspension that shaped not only his summer, but also his September and October, too.

Hartley was dropped by England after receiving a four-week ban, which will run from August 15 to September 21, for headbutting Saracens hooker Jamie George in Saints’ Aviva Premiership semi-final defeat in May.

And it meant he would miss out on preparations for the Rugby World Cup and the tournament itself, which begins with England’s fixture against Fiji on September 18.

Back at Saints, his most recent misdemeanour - Hartley has been banned for a total of 54 weeks during an eventful career - will not be held against him.

His club feel what he gives to them far outweighs what he takes away.

And chairman Tony Hewitt was delighted to hear that Hartley was the first to put his holidays behind him.

“Dylan’s very much here and he’s going to want to prove himself again,” Hewitt said.

“He’s a great supporter of the Saints and he’s been a very good captain.

“We’ll be looking forward to having Dylan in a leadership role this year.”

Hartley and the other players not included in World Cup squads or international matches in other competitions returned to training on July 6.

And that included the likes of Michael Paterson and Tom Kessell, who were the first new boys to report for duty.

“Everyone’s back and looking forward to the season,” said Hewitt. “It’s very exciting.

“It’s going to be a long pre-season because we don’t play the first of those pre-season friendlies until the end of September.”

And after that, there will still be some to-ing and fro-ing as players return from World Cup duty, possibly at different stages.

“Until the final picks are made for the World Cup we won’t know exactly what our starting team will be for the first league game (at Worcester on October 16),” Hewitt said.

“We’ve also got the question over those players who may not progress to the quarter-final stages and when we bring them back in.

“Some of them will have played a lot of rugby, with pre-World Cup friendlies and the World Cup itself, so they’ve got to be merged back in.

“The coaching team here are very experienced at doing that. I’m sure we’ll get the right results.”