New Zealand-born Englishman Hartley set to face the All Blacks
Three New Zealanders will be making landmark appearances at Twickenham on Saturday but one of them will be wearing the white of England and giving his utmost to ruin the day for the other two.
Dan Carter, one of the greatest flyhalves to grace the game, becomes the fifth All Black to clock up 100 tests, while lock Sam Whitelock will play his 50th.
Also completing his half-century will be Northampton’s Dylan Hartley, born in Rotorua of an English mother and resident in England since he was 16.
He has represented his adopted land with ferocious pride for five years and is described by coach Stuart Lancaster as a “bona fide Englishman”.
Hartley, now 27, is always somewhat bemused by the continuing questioning of his national allegiance, which re-emerges whenever New Zealand are in opposition.
“I’ve considered myself English for a long time,” he said after being named in the team to face the world champions.
“We’ve all bought into what Stuart and the coaches are trying to instil around the team.
“The starting point is the shirt, the pride of those who wore it before us.”
And it is the white, not the black, that fires Hartley.
Lancaster said: “He was born in New Zealand but there’s no doubt that he’s a bona fide Englishman and he’s proud to be part of the team.
“Technically he’s improved his game over the last year and there is more evasion to his ball carrying. He has a physical presence, his lineout throwing is exceptional, which is a pretty important part of a hooker’s role.
“It’s great for him that his 50th cap is against them and we’re all chuffed for him.”
Hartley’s career has been a real roller-coaster, the periods of success and achievement all-too regularly punctuated by disciplinary problems and suspensions while the emergence of Tom Youngs has forced him to improve his game to hold on to the hooker’s jersey.
He missed out on a potential British & Irish Lions slot and England’s tour of Argentina this year after being banned for 11 weeks following his red card for abusing the referee during May’s Premiership final.
Previous suspensions for punching, gouging and biting all paint a picture of a player somewhat out of control but Lancaster is convinced the bad boy days are, generally, behind him.
“Dylan brings leadership, character and personality and he’s learned where the edge is,” he said.
“When you are playing against the All Blacks you have to have people who are prepared to go toe to toe with them – the likes of Dylan, Courtney Lawes, Tom Wood, you need them on the edge.
“But England’s discipline has really improved over the last 18 months.
“We’ve been excellent on and off the field, we have a good relationship with the refs, we rarely give unnecessary penalties away now and yet we’ve managed to find the line that when teams have the ball against us they will have to work hard to break us down,” said the coach.
That mentality has helped England to win nine of their last 10 games and restricted Argentina and free-scoring Australia to a single try in the last two games.
They will need to go another step up though if they are to repeat last year’s stunning 38-21 victory over the All Blacks, the visitors’ only defeat since the 2011 World Cup.
“I was injured last year so I wasn’t involved in the match but there was a real backs-against-the-wall mentality after losing to Australia and South Africa,” Hartley said.
“This year we go into it with some confidence and momentum.
“We play them five times over the next year or so, so it’s a really good test of where we are. It will be really tough but we have to beat the best to be the best.”