It didn’t happen. Far from it. The pantomime villain didn’t show up. In fact, on the evidence of this opening assignment in his new role, what was all the fuss about? Hartley led the visitors with intensity, authority, efficiency and, crucially, with real composure.
The skipper doesn’t take himself too seriously. He’s happy to indulge in a spot of self-deprecation, so this was his verdict, based on all the doubts about his temperament. ‘I got through it, didn’t I?’ he joked. ‘I survived! I live on for one more week! On to the next one…’
This was a long-awaited comeback for the Northampton hooker, whose ban at the end of last season meant he was removed from the national squad and ruled out of the home World Cup. He was just glad to be back in Test action.
Asked if it made him realise just what he had been missing, Hartley said: ‘Of course. I’ve been injured before and I’ve not been in the front seat — I’ve been on the bench — and any sort of time out of the shirt makes you cherish it and appreciate it when you’re in it. I closed my eyes at the anthems, I sucked it all up and it was a hell of an experience.
‘It was special. But I tried not to get caught up in all the bulls*** on the side, about leading the team out, the introductions to the team and the whole 16 minutes between the warm-ups to actually starting the game. I just enjoyed being back out there and I enjoyed being part of a good side and a really responsive team. I’m very lucky to be at the head of it.’
Despite concerns about his lack of game-time, Hartley lasted 76 of the 80 minutes before being replaced by Jamie George. He was at the heart of a scrum revival after early problems in that area, his lineout throwing was near flawless, he was a conspicuous presence at the breakdown and he offered regular, visible encouragement to his side.
It was an accomplished performance on his return. Shortly after laying his hands on the Calcutta Cup, Hartley conceded that he had felt a weight of responsibility to the country’s rugby public. ‘Of course I did,’ he said. ‘The responsibility made me prepare.
‘The game never goes how you want it to go. It was never going to be perfect. But the team was so responsible — everyone looked after themselves. That was my key message. I just said, “Boys, make sure you’re in the right place to do your job, I’ll do my job and we’ll see how we go”.’
There was an irony in the fact that the perennial offender was possibly offended against. Just before half-time, Hartley complained to referee John Lacey about a Scottish finger around his eye. Asked about it, he said: ‘I think someone was getting the ball, they swiped for it (gestures across his face) and I was a bit miffed. It was nothing. At the time I was a bit, like, “Grrrr”, but it was nothing.’
Hartley has been the accused many times before, so he wasn’t about to start doing the accusing. He could just reflect on a job well done, on ‘surviving’ and perhaps earning some welcome respite. – Daily Mail
Original source: Captain Hartley passes first test