Disingenuous Dylan Hartley a dangerous disgrace

This probably comes across as premature given we’re still over a week out from the first round of games, but you can take it as read that, regardless of what happens between now and March 18, the worst day of the Six Nations has already come and gone as far as the six captains and coaches are concerned.
Disingenuous Dylan Hartley a dangerous disgrace

You can add about 300 journalists and photographers to that number, too. The annual tournament launch in Hurlingham isn’t so much a media day as a choreographed cattle mart and nobody escapes the pen.

The likes of Joe Schmidt and Rory Best are led around the exclusive sports and social club in Fulham on a not-so-merry dance. At every stop are members of the media, addled by hours of waiting, their colleagues’ elbows and bad B.O.

Everyone breathes that bit easier when the masquerade is done. The photographs taken will filter on through the tournament but the majority of words will pass their sell-by date by the time Scotland and Ireland get underway in Murrayfield on Saturday week.

Only the odd utterance will have a lifespan much longer. Among them this time, unfortunately, will be some of those spoken by Dylan Hartley.

This was Hartley’s first media engagement since he connected with the back of Sean O’Brien’s head with a swinging forearm during the Champions Cup game between Northampton Saints and Leinster at Franklin’s Gardens last month so it didn’t take a genius to figure out what the immediate focus would be for the assembled press.

Or, for that matter, the nature of Hartley’s response. His initial gambit said everything: “We did this last year, talked about me,” he started.

“I’m here to talk about the team.” The word remorse was eventually used, but only in relation to how his actions and the rather lenient six-week ban he received had let his teammates down. “I understand the position I put myself and my team in,” he said at one point.

That’s okay, then.

There had been no talk of remorse when the decision on his ban for the tackle on O’Brien was announced, just confirmation he had pleaded guilty in the hearing. And there has been no hint of remorse for the immediate consequences for O’Brien who sat out the last 16 minutes of the game but, luckily, escaped a concussion.

Worse was Hartley’s claim it was poor technique and not appalling self-discipline that was the cause of O’Brien’s injury. This from a player who has now been banned from rugby for over a year combined for various infractions.

Worse, it was a theory given credence by England defence coach Paul Gustard this week.

This isn’t just pathetic, it is dangerous. Whatever about Hartley brushing his recklessness off in such a manner, having such rubbish aided by the England coaching staff is simply disgraceful and yet fully in keeping with the way in which Ian Ritchie, the RFU’s chief executive, ignored any wider responsibilities to the greater good after the incident itself.

“I think Dylan’s got credit in the bank,” Ritchie told BBC Sport before the disciplinary committee had even met to consider the England captain’s case in December. “I think most people would say it’s been a fantastic year. We’ve had 13 wins out of 13 and Dylan has made a huge contribution and he should be allowed to continue that.”

Player health and safety? Be damned. Rugby has a tendency to get up people’s noses what with a tendency towards pious self-regard and a background borne of the upper classes but what would the 32 gentlemen who met to found the RFU at the Pall Mall restaurant in London 145 years ago this week have made of Ritchie’s airbrushing of such a thuggish act?

This latest Six Nations has all the ingredients to be a classic. England are the world’s form team while Ireland have beaten all three SANZAR giants of late and boast a squad of previously unknown strength.

France show signs of rebirth under Guy Noves and Wales tend to hold their best for this time of year. Scottish rugby is no longer languishing in intensive care and even Italy managed a restorative win against South Africa recently.

None of which changes the fact that, at some stage over the next eight weeks or so, everyone’s focus will shift from the quality (or otherwise) of the games to the latest concern for a player’s well-being after an injury caused by a game that is finding it difficult to balance its natural combativeness with growing concerns over the spike in size and physicality.

There are differing theories as to what rugby as a game is or isn’t doing to square this circle but Hartley and the RFU have done everyone a disservice with their arrogance and myopia this last month or so and no amount of media management can disguise that as the talking stops and the games begin.

Email: brendan.obrien@examiner.ie

Twitter: @Rackob

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