Saints skipper Hartley ‘proud to wear the rose’ as he wins 50th England cap

PROUD TO WEAR THE SHIRT - England and Saints hooker Dylan Hartley
PROUD TO WEAR THE SHIRT - England and Saints hooker Dylan Hartley

Saints skipper Dylan Hartley bristles at the perception England are merely imitating New Zealand by drawing strength from their jerseys, insisting the All Blacks do not have a monopoly on national pride.

Head coach Stuart Lancaster has sought to strengthen his team’s identity by establishing links with their history and frequently references the world champions when explaining his thinking.

Among the ideas introduced by Lancaster has been to create a stronger bond with the England shirt based on a willingness to speak more openly of their sense of patriotism.

Hartley, born in New Zealand but set to win his 50th Red Rose cap in this afternoon’s final QBE International at Twickenham, insists Lancaster’s initiative has been well received by players.

Remembrance Day and the 41 England players who died in the First and Second World Wars have been discussed in the build-up to a match of critical importance for both teams.

“I get asked about England trying to do what the All Blacks do with the shirt and that really annoys me,” Hartley said.

“Just because they are New Zealand and you see that strong association with the shirt, it doesn’t mean players from every other country in the world don’t have exactly the same pride when they pull on their shirt.

“A lot is made about the All Blacks shirt, but in the last few weeks we have been reconnecting with the shirt and making it another 10 per cent for us.

“It has always been special and we’ve always been proud to wear the rose, but I don’t think we should be afraid of saying that.

“We talked about Remembrance Day last week and our fallen heroes, the England players who went to war and didn’t come back, looking a bit deeper into history and trying to get an extra 10 per cent when you pull it on.”

Hartley’s own ‘Englishness’ is now well established, ingrained after leaving Rotorua little over a decade ago and spending what he regards as his formative years in his adopted country.

“I was 16 when I came here. England made me the rugby player I am. Anything I have ever learned of value is very much English,” the 27-year-old said.

“I can’t give you an age when I felt connected to England, but the time when I understood that my life is here now was maybe in my early 20s.

“I was fully aware I was going to have a rugby career here and I fully bought into it. You don’t just wake up one morning and feel a certain way.

“Playing with the lads I feel a bond with a lot of them, I have played with a lot of them since I was 17 or 18. People like Danny Care and Tom Wood.”

Hartley secured his second start against New Zealand on the strength of his man of the match performance against Argentina on Saturday, keeping Tom Youngs on the bench once more.

He views the 50-cap milestone as “just a number” and will refuse the honour of leading England out at Twickenham in recognition of the achievement if it is offered to him.

Instead, he would rather celebrate All Blacks great Dan Carter joining the ranks of Test centurions in the climax to the autumn series at Twickenham.

“I personally think 100 games is pretty significant. How many international games do you play a year, 10-12 maybe? That’s almost a decade, dealing with injuries,” Hartley said.

“In the modern game that’s something worth celebrating, so congratulations to Dan. I don’t want congratulations for making 50 caps.”

New Zealand are hoping to record their 13th victory of an unbeaten year fuelled by memories of last autumn’s record 38-21 defeat at Twickenham.

For England it is a chance to demonstrate they have developing into a genuine force in the game.

“Last year we’d had two tough games against Australia and South Africa, so we had our backs against the wall for New Zealand. We needed a big performance and produced it on the day,” Hartley said.

“This year there might be a little bit of expectation over us to perform well, especially with the momentum and confidence we have got from these last two games.

“We are expected to put up a fight after last year. The reality is they are number one and we want to be number one ourselves. We have got to beat them.”