Northampton captain Dylan Hartley urges Saints to shake off that losers’ tag

Dylan Hartley in action for NorthamptonSaints captain Dylan Hartley has demanded his side shake off their tag as the nearly men of English rugby.
While Northampton have won plenty of plaudits for their attacking brand of rugby, that attractive style has not manifested itself into sustained success at the highest echelons of the game.
For three successive seasons they have fallen short in the Premiership play-off semi-finals and in the 2011 Heineken Cup final they imploded against Leinster, letting slip a 22-6 lead.
And after a meeting with the club’s senior players this summer, the New Zealand-born hooker is adamant that there will be no excuses should they fall short again.
Hartley told TRP: “For the last three years now we’ve made the play-offs and never really gone on and done anything else. I spoke to a few of the senior boys like Lee Dickson and Calum Clark and we said that this is the year that we really want to hammer it home, set standards, set goals and really push for it.
“I’ve seen that the work ethic and application has been there, the lads are looking fit and strong. We have a young squad; everyone has been working hard so when you work hard together it usually comes together on the field.
“We have about five or six captains in the squad, we have Dickson, Clark, Phil Dowson, Tom Wood, you could go on.
“If you have people like that driving standards and if you have them below you driving standards there is no room for slacking or cutting corners, we have a good culture here.”
Centre Dom Waldouck looks to be the final piece of the recruitment jigsaw from Jim Mallinder but it is another new man, Ken Pisi, who has caught Hartley’s eye.
The wing would have to go some way to matching the impact made by his brother George, who won the club’s player-of-the-year award in his maiden season, but Hartley says the early indications are overwhelmingly positive.
“The new lads that have come in all have potential to be big players for us,” he said. “Ken Pisi is apparently the better brother, George made the dream team last year and he was obviously our player of the year last year so if Ken can deliver on those sorts of levels we would have done all right.
“You need to re-introduce players and every player that has come in looks the part so far.”
It is not just at Franklin’s Gardens where Hartley is determined to set the standards as he reflected on England’s summer tour of South Africa.
While the series saw Hartley captain his adopted country for the first time in the third Test which was drawn 14-14, the 26-year-old’s overwhelming memory was his personal battle against  Springbok goliath Bismarck du Plessis.
“It was a good experience playing against Bismarck who is probably the best around at the moment in my position,” he said.
“He is the benchmark and I would like to think I could get somewhere near that level in a few years or so.
“At a team level, knowing that in the last game and every game we were within a score of winning in the last five to ten minutes and the last game, obviously drawing, was satisfying.
“We know we can compete with these big boys on foreign soil so when they come over to Twickenham in November we can win.”
SAM MORGAN

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