Graham Rowntree, England’s forwards coach, says that a straw poll of the
Premiership’s props has Hartley right up there as one of the most annoyingly
difficult opponents to face. His line-out statistics from the first Test
indicate that his other core skill is in decent order.
But that’s just the half of it. England’s biggest problem on this tour has
been their inability to stop the Springbok juggernaut in match-defining
periods. It killed them in the third quarter of the first Test, and it
damaged them fatally at the start of the second. And it is this Hartley has
to address as hooker and captain.
It’s a toughie because he is up against Bismarck du Plessis, one of the
sport’s more mobile and athletic hookers, who is luxuriating in more game
time following the retirement of Springbok icon and former captain John
Smit. “He’s strong, physical,” Hartley says of Du Plessis.
“He’s up there as No 1 in the world at the moment, and I always enjoy
playing against someone who’s perceived to be better than me because it’s a
good chance to test yourself. We’re different players.
“He gets his hands on the ball a lot and he’s strong and gets go-forward
for them. I pride myself on the set piece. That’s my job. I haven’t really
got into the game as much as I would have liked, but it will come hopefully.”
That’s the Test match right there. Martin Johnson used to say that if each
member of his side won their personal battle the result would take care of
itself. Hartley is a different beast to Du Plessis, more at home in the
murkier, crowded areas than the light-filled open spaces which the Bok
hooker prefers, but he needs to contribute there also.
More difficult still, in his role as captain, Hartley has to galvanise an
England pack against the most physically relentless opponents of the lot.
This is where Hartley, the warrior, has to step up. He’s no Chris Robshaw.
Hartley is the snarling, stroppy terrier to Robshaw’s loyal, faithful,
reliable Labrador, and that’s no bad thing.
With the series gone, England require a performance and a result on which they
can reflect with pride over the summer break, and which they can use as a
boost when they meet to prepare for a difficult schedule of autumn
international against Australia, South
Africa, New Zealand and Fiji. This one-off game is right up
It will resonate with the chippy, aggressive bit of him which has to simmer on
the outer edge of self control. Today is a big moment for Hartley if he is
to acquire the reputation as a man to whom England can turn in times of
Today is not about changing room speeches or organisational competence in what
is bound to be another unrelentingly ferocious Test match. It’s about
standing up to be counted, about channelling all that hurt and energy and
bile, which has occasionally erupted into disciplinary difficulties, into a
performance which will linger long in the memory, and define a man.
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Category: Africa News