Empty Twickenham won’t change England’s will to win – Dylan Hartley

By George Sessions, PA
·4-min read

Dylan Hartley does not expect playing at an empty Twickenham to impact England’s players when they get their Autumn Nations Cup campaign under way on Saturday against Georgia.

The former national team captain believes the lack of crowd affected the quality of some Gallagher Premiership fixtures.

England this weekend play at HQ for the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, but a big difference will be the lack of atmosphere with the contest played behind closed doors.

Hartley, who will be a pundit for Amazon Prime Video at the tournament, told the PA news agency: “I’d look at club players and notice a real lack of enthusiasm in some players in some games and it seemed a bit flat.

“But everyone in that England team, you don’t become an international without a drive and hunger internally. You don’t need external factors to make you play well.

“They want to be – first and foremost – winning for England and putting their best foot forward in terms of selection. There is no point playing in a winning team and not giving your all because there is no crowd there.”

Given the state of the country, Eddie Jones’ side will hope to give the nation something to smile about and Hartley revealed it was a constant conversation throughout his time as skipper.

He added: “I know as a team they talk about the feelgood factor they can give to the nation and inspire people.

“At a time where people are looking for some form of happiness and entertainment, they can provide that and they actively talk about that.

“In terms of playing a way to entertain, that is dangerous. I know for a fact you don’t go down that route. Ultimately what do kids love and supporters love? They love winning teams. If they are winning, that is the main thing.”

During the build-up to Saturday’s match with Georgia, England’s head coach suggested he could play nine forwards – a tactic he deployed with Japan ahead of the 2015 World Cup against the same opposition.

Even though Jones did not go through with that idea, Hartley believes it is only a matter of time before the stereotypes of positions are relaxed.

“It is not outrageous to suggest you could have hybrid players because outside of scrummaging and lineouts, I would say the game is already there with hybrid players,” the ex-Northampton captain insisted.

“Ellis Genge could play back-row or centre and Manu Tuilagi, he could play hooker if he wanted so I reckon we are already there.

Eddie Jones sprung a surprise when he last coached against Georgia in 2015
Eddie Jones sprung a surprise when he last coached against Georgia in 2015 (Andrew Matthews/PA)

“It is just removing that tradition of the hooker has to throw the ball in or the scrum-half has to put the ball in the scrum. You need someone brave enough to find a reason not to do that and to try something else.”

Hartley, 34, was a surprise onlooker at England training on Wednesday and revealed Mako Vunipola introduced him to the group with a “heartfelt welcome”.

The 97-cap international expressed his surprise at how much the game has changed over the last two years.

Off the pitch, he will be a part of the coverage for Amazon Prime Video’s first foray into the sport, which will include their innovative PostCAM – eight custom cameras that will capture close-up shots of the goal-line action – being used for all of England’s matches.

On it, Hartley feels the sport has already evolved since he confirmed his retirement in November 2019 following a long-standing knee injury.

“When I went to watch the England boys train yesterday, I was just like ‘I don’t know how I did it’ because the guys are like superhuman,” Hartley said.

“Sport is one of these things you always romanticise about when you played and that was part of my interest in going because I know even when I played the game changed.

“The philosophy changed and it is like any sport, it is always evolving and if you are at the forefront of that evolution you are usually one of the dominant teams.

“I see England as one of those teams so I wanted to understand how the game has evolved and in two years, it has shifted on.”

:: Autumn Nations Cup Rugby Union is coming to Amazon Prime Video, exclusively broadcasting 13 out of 16 matches from 14 November including the tournament finals.