Hartley refusing to be bullied both on and off the pitch

JUST do not lie around on the floor in the way of Dylan Hartley.

England's Dylan Hartley.

It is best to keep it simple. Let’s face it, the roguish England hooker has never been one to hold back as his lengthy disciplinary record suggests.

But, in this instance, he insists he was not in the wrong.

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Hartley is restored to the starting line-up today against Australia after, to all intents and purposes, being dropped for last week’s Samoa victory following a needless yellow card in the earlier defeat to South Africa.

England's Dylan Hartley.

The always feisty 28 year-old showed a little too much zeal in rucking his way over Duane Vermeulen and was deemed to have stamped but he maintains that was not the case.

“It was stupid, yeah, but it wasn’t like previous,” explained Hartley, referring to earlier bans for various nefarious acts ranging from eye-gouging and biting to verbally abusing a referee.

“It wasn’t crazy. I can tell you now; I knew what I was doing.

“Usually when people do crazy things there isn’t a thought process.

“They just react. With me, there was a thought process.

“A guy’s lying there and I went tap, tap, tap, told the ref he was in the way and wasn’t moving. I knew stamping with the studs was illegal so I walked over him.

“This all happened very quickly by the way. But I even told him (Vermeulen), ‘I know what you’re doing.’

“In a club game you can probably police that yourselves but on the big stage, it’s been made pretty clear you can’t do that. Let the ref deal with it.’”

Is he, then, relieved that head coach Stuart Lancaster has put him back in the England starting role given Rob Webber fared admirably against Samoa?

“I don’t know if Stuart was going to make changes anyway,” countered Hartley who, for all his previous faults, has been excellent this autumn.

“I think I might have helped him to make the decision…!

“So no, I didn’t feel hard done by. You have to take your punishment and he did speak about making changes – whether that was in my position or not, who knows?’

‘I didn’t feel it was droppable because I thought the whole of my game has been pretty solid.

“Defensively, the coaches have asked me to work on that and I think I’ve been making a lot of good tackles. The set piece has been good too, but one thing…

‘I’m delighted, though. It’s great to be back.”

Granted, he is but not before having to deal with plenty of abuse on social media for his indiscretion against the ‘Boks, a game in which, just like New Zealand in the opening week of this month-long campaign, they lost by just three points.

Rather than wilt, though, Hartley opted to highlight the level of vitriol and “retweeted” numerous offending messages.

“I got sick of it because I get quite a bit of that on a regular basis,” he said.

“That week all we had got is stick. So I thought I’d do it to highlight it’s going on. People shouldn’t accept it. That’s why I did it. I wasn’t upset or drunk or anything like that, I just thought the best way for some people to see what they write is for me to...

“Hopefully I made some people realise that. And then I get some people say ‘thanks for the retweet, glad you’ve learned your lesson, hashtag rugby family’. Who are these people?

“Just because Jess Ennis-Hill is a pretty young lady who you shouldn’t bully, you shouldn’t do it to anyone. That’s the statement.

“Just because I’m a big, burly rugby player, I have feelings too. You can’t cyber bully anyone.”

But on the subject of bullying, how important is it to batter Australia into submission today and end a frustrating autumn so far with the victory which will restore confidence among fans ahead of the Six Nations?

“It’s a bit like Northampton this season - people expecting us to win,” he said. “Every other year it’s ‘they might be a contender’.

“There are expectations there and we have to back those up and close one of these games out.”