Dylan Hartley is out to get rid of the “dirty” feeling that has resided within him since losing to Ireland in the 2011 Six Nations, a game that cost England the Grand Slam.
The similarities between the 2011 Six Nations championship and this year’s instalment are remarkable, in that England have won all four of their matches so far, Ireland losing twice despite pre-tournament expectations being of a title challenge and a Grand Slam decider in Dublin that could make or break the visitors’ campaign.
Despite having the championship sewn up with a round to spare, England will not want to suffer the same fate as they did in the Irish capital six years ago, and Hartley said this week that he still remembers that day all too well, when an electric start by the Irish paved the way for a 24-8 victory over the crowned champions and resulted in muted celebrations for Martin Johnson’s side.
“I think as a team, we’ve had plenty of set-backs and failures and learnings along the way,” Hartley said.
“Individuals as well. James Haskell, for instance, has been playing since 2007 and what’s he got to put to his name? Outside of the last year, a Six Nations title a few years ago, but we lost the final game and that’s a dirty feeling to have. I think it’s guys relishing the moment that we have now and seizing the opportunity.
“It’s a wasted opportunity. Looking back now and knowing how hard we train and prepare now, I didn’t do what I needed to to be right for that game and people like James Haskell would say the same thing.
"You think you are doing everything right but we were a long way off. But it’s all learning and it’s got us to where we are now. All we can do is learn from those set-backs and put us in good stead for games like this.
“You don’t get these opportunities very often in life, especially in a rugby life,” he added. “We don’t have many opportunities, do we? We need to make the most of them. Am I going to be here this time next year to do this again. So I want to make sure that everything I do will contribute this week in appositive manner, make the most of it.”
England will have to wait for that opportunity though. And wait…and wait.
As with home matches at the Aviva Stadium, Ireland have two anthems before kick-off, along with the Presidential greeting which will see Hartley introduce Michael D Higgins to the rest of his team.
But there will be another delay come Saturday evening, given that the match is live on ITV, meaning that the players have to wait for the pre-match advertising commercial to air before Jerome Garces blows his whistle to get proceedings underway, just shy of 10 minutes after the players emerge from the tunnel.
“I’ve noticed this tournament that between anthems and kick off is quite long,” Hartley said.
“It’s a good couple of minutes. We addressed that as a team, as it used to be jackets off and a game of rugby. But now we come together so we aren’t scattered everywhere and we got ready for the game – but there was still a good minute and a half to go against Scotland and they were in their huddle.”
But there won’t be a repeat of the 2003 drama, when Johnson infamously refused to budge after leading his side out onto the wrong half of the pitch, and forcing then president Mary McAleese to walk off the ceremonious red carpet, onto the Lansdowne Road turf. “I’m aware of that. I’ll go where I’m told. We’ve done it before,” adds Hartley with a grin.