Hartley is facing fitness battle to play in finals

Have your say

England hooker Dylan Hartley remains locked in a fitness battle to play any part in Northampton’s twin final fortnight.

Saints rugby director Jim Mallinder revealed Hartley has yet to take any contact in training as he fights to shrug off shoulder trouble suffered in March.

The 28-year-old should recover for England’s three-Test June tour to New Zealand, but remains under pressure to be ready for Saints’ Amlin Challenge Cup final on Friday night.

Northampton follow Friday’s European battle with Bath in Cardiff by taking on Saracens in the Aviva Premiership final at Twickenham on May 31.

Mallinder remains hopeful Hartley can appear in both showpiece contests, but admitted his club captain is at the mercy of the medics.

“Hopefully Dylan will be back, we’re not too sure. He’s improving by the day, but he’s got to be fit to play, and our other hookers are playing well,” said Mallinder.

“It’s a strength thing with 
Dylan now. I think in overall terms his shoulder has improved, he’s out there doing running all the time.

“The physios are constantly doing tests on him, comparing it to the other arm, to see where that is.

“It’s got to reach a certain level before they’re happy for him to take contact.

“He still hasn’t taken contact yet.”

Hartley damaged his shoulder in Northampton’s 22-16 Aviva Premiership home defeat to Leicester on March 29.

The New Zealand-born front-rower watched on as Saints overturned a 17-6 deficit to sneak past Leicester 21-20 into the Premiership final in Friday night’s play-off battle.

Northampton denied Leicester a fourth consecutive victory at Franklin’s Gardens and a 10th-straight Premiership final.

Hartley’s red card gifted Leicester Premiership glory in last season’s league final, the 
Tigers triumphing 37-17.

Northampton will return to Twickenham a year on still hunting their first league trophy, but could well be forced to do so without prop Salesi Ma’afu.

The Australian was sent off for punching Tom Youngs in Friday’s victory over Leicester.

Saracens powered on in relentless pursuit of their own domestic and European double as they booked an Aviva Premiership final appointment with Northampton in two weeks.

The 2011 league champions fought back magnificently from a six-point interval deficit against Harlequins to prevail 31-17.