Kiwi-born English hooker may have to wait

MARC HINTON
Last updated 18:46 09/06/2014
ASHTEN MACDONALD/Stuff.co.nz

Dylan Hartley and Mike Catt talk about the strengths of England's performance.

Dylan Hartley
Getty
WAITING GAME: NZ-born English hooker Dylan Hartley may have to wait for his chance to take on the All Blacks.

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New Zealand-born England hooker Dylan Hartley is desperate to get a first crack at the All Blacks on their home soil but understands that circumstances mean he may have to bide his time this week.

Hartley is part of a 16-strong group that flew out after England's Premiership final the weekend before last, and because of that were not available for last Saturday's opening test at Eden Park, won 20-15 by the All Blacks.

With his main positional rival Tom Youngs unavailable as he deals with a family matters back in England, by rights the 28-year-old Hartley, with 55 caps under his belt already, could have expected to walk straight into the No 2 jersey for Dunedin on Saturday night.

But so impressive were the English at Eden Park, so competitive was Stuart Lancaster's scratch side for the entire 80 minutes, the coach now has a selection quandary.  Does he ring the changes with his high-profile, fresher faces from Northampton and Saracens? Or does he stick with the crew who performed so gallantly and with so much skill last Saturday?

Hartley today at the team hotel in Auckland said he was making no presumptions either way, but after watching the performance from the stands on Saturday night he fully understood the difficult choices his coach now faced.

"We competed really well, but we're under no illusions it's going to step up this week," Hartley said of the opening test. "Both teams will be better for having a bit more time to gel as team. For us as a first hitout off the plane we were pretty happy and bitterly disappointed not to come away with at least a draw."

The Rotorua-born and raised Hartley said a high standard had now been set by the men who played on Saturday night, including his own positional rival Rob Webber who was part of an impressive pack effort.

"Because of the preliminary final there were opportunities for people like Rob Webber and he certainly stepped up 100 percent at the set piece, and was pretty mobile in the game as well.

"The people offered an opportunity stood up and took a chance. It's a good problem for the coaches to have because we've got that sort of depth at the moment."

Hartley said this tour remained about the "bigger picture" of the World Cup, and he felt it was important everyone realised that.

"I've been in and out of this side for a few years now. We're working towards the World Cup and we've got to have three, maybe even four, players in each position who can step up if they need to.

"It's all about time and opportunity and taking your chance when you get it. Me and Tom Youngs have been battling it out for a while, Rob got his chance now and he certainly stepped up at the weekend."

Hartley has never played the All Blacks in New Zealand, having been a non-playing squad member when he toured back in 2008. He's desperate for a chance this Saturday, but says he's more than happy if that's off the bench.

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"I've only played the All Blacks before at Twickenham. I'd like to make a good account of myself in front of friends and family who don't get to see me play. I'd like to leave the country with my head held high."

But Hartley, perhaps more than anyone in this England squad, has a fair idea what is coming this Saturday, and probably the following one in Hamilton.

"They see themselves as world No 1, and with every right given their track record is impeccable. They'd expect a lot more of themselves, and I expect them to approach the game with the mindset to step up the intensity. But we know we can go to another level as well, and we're prepared for where it's going to go this weekend."

Sounds like Hartley's sort of a game. He just awaits his starting orders.

- Stuff

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