"We Don't Accept the Underdog Tag" - Dylan Hartley Believes England Should Back Themselves As Favourites for France - Ruck

“We Don’t Accept the Underdog Tag” – Dylan Hartley Believes England Should Back Themselves As Favourites for France

Former England captain Dylan Hartley believes that England need to repeat the intensity of their win over Ireland, if they want to stand a chance of beating France tomorrow evening. Hartley expects England to bring a highly motivated side to Lyon, regardless of whether the Six Nations title will be on the line.

England close out the action on ‘Super Saturday’, with a Championship deciding contest taking place a few hours prior to their 8pm kick-off. Ireland take on Scotland in Dublin, and a win for Andy Farrell’s side will secure the title for the men in green. However, should Scotland achieve an upset victory, the playing field will open up for England to snatch the title, should they beat France in the competition’s curtain caller.

Last Kick Drop Goal celebrations from Marcus Smith of England to win the match during the Guinness Six Nations Match between England and Ireland at Twickenham Stadium, Twickenham, London on March 9th 2024. – PHOTO: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

Speaking to Gambling Zone, Hartley demands Steve Borthwick’s side to get back to those impressive levels of emotional intensity, if they want to end their campaign triumphantly over Les Bleus.

“How can we replicate the intensity of the Ireland performance against France? For such a young, developing squad, they will now understand what it takes to win test matches against top opposition. When your skill level is very high and your tactical understanding and awareness is very high, you can get by winning games, but when you sprinkle on top of that the emotion and the intensity that England played with, that is when you get world-class performances and that is what you saw at the weekend.

“It was a performance where everything was done to an eight, nine, ten out of ten level. The challenge for England now is to understand that is how hard it is (if you want to be the best).”

Dylan Hartley (captain) of England arrives at Twickenham Stadium before the RBS 6 Nations match, between England and France at Twickenham Stadium, London , UK, on the 4th February 2017.

England head coach Borthwick looks to have silenced the sceptics with the win over Ireland, as the future of the former lock’s time in charge was being questioned. Unconvincing wins over Italy and Wales, as well as the defeat to Scotland, put Borthwick’s neck on the line heading into the Ireland match. However, the England head coach pieced together his side for an inspired performance, with Hartley believing that the future looks bright.

“England have been talking throughout the tournament about making the fans proud of the team; an intent to play. A new England. The stats have shown that they are trying to deliver on that, they are passing the ball a lot. Against Scotland it didn’t happen for England and the result showed that if your fundamentals aren’t right, you can get punished, which is what happened. 

Duhan van der Merwe of Scotland Rugby goes over for a try and celebrates during the Six Nations Rugby match between Wales and Scotland at Principality Stadium on February 3, 2024 in Cardiff, Wales. Photo: Phil Mingo/PPAUK

“Duhan van der Merwe got his hat-trick, but then, when you get it right, it’s unbelievable and, I think the proof is in the pudding of what this England team has been trying to show at the tournament with the performance against Ireland at the weekend. The approach to the tournament has been justified by the result against Ireland.

“That performance showed that this might be a young team, but it’s a serious one. To do what they did against a mature Ireland side who have been performing really well, will give England huge confidence going forward.”

Dylan Hartley, Captain of England Rugby leads the team into Twickenham stadium before the International Old Mutual Wealth Series match between England v Argentina on 11th November 2017 at Twickenham Stadium, London, England (Photo:Phil Mingo/PPAUK),

The 2016 Grand Slam winning captain then laid out the challenge for England, as he wants to see the side end the 2024 Six Nations on a high before a Summer and Autumn of enticing test matches. This Summer, England have a tour of Japan and New Zealand to wet the appetite, before they take on South Africa and Australia, as well as a third run in with the All Blacks at Twickenham. Hartley expects the All Blacks to be watching on, as England run out all guns blazing in France.

“I think England will get over there and that internal drive from the team to finish the tournament on a high before facing Japan and New Zealand in the summer will be a motivational factor. They will want the lasting memory of the tournament to be a good one. I think England can be really proud of themselves if they win this weekend.

Ben Earl of England celebrates after winning during the Guinness Six Nations Match between England and Ireland at Twickenham Stadium, Twickenham, London on March 9th 2024. – PHOTO: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

“The true test for England is to back-up that performance against Ireland when they play France, who are not mugs. They will have to play with the same intensity, desire and skill level to win over there. Two wins in a row against two good teams will put England in good stead for a summer trip Down Under. I think New Zealand will be watching intently. It’s a chance for England to re-cement themselves as a contender. ”

“When you’re a professional sat in the changing room before a big game, you don’t look at the odds, you don’t look at form and you don’t look at who the favourite is. You know that man-for-man, you can go out there and win.

George Furbank of England inspect the pitch ahead of the Guinness Six Nations Match between England and Ireland at Twickenham Stadium, Twickenham, London on March 9th 2024. – PHOTO: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

“I think this is a good opportunity for England to remind the world that they are a still a proper team with good athletes, good players, and this is a good test for them. If they can win against France, then that gives England the chance to leave the Six Nations on a high. After the Ireland performance, they have a good barometer of where they need to be at to beat good teams. It is a good challenge for them.”

England carried the monicker of ‘underdogs’ into their latest Six Nations fixture, as Ireland entered the match on track for a Grand Slam and ranked at second in the world. Hartley believes that England should never accept going into a match with the backs against the wall, and should instead believe that they can beat any side on their day.

Dylan Hartley of England during the Quilter International Match between England and New Zealand at Twickenham Stadium, Twickenham, London on 10th November 2018. – PHOTO: Gareth Davies/PPAUK

“We don’t accept the underdog tag. England should believe that they can beat any team in the world. That is belief, it’s not arrogance. As soon as a team buys into being cast as the underdog, you’re buying into being subservient, sub-standard. Not good enough. You create a gap between yourself and the opponent.

“You don’t want to put yourself on that pedestal. We never did that as a team. Externally, we were happy for people to use that language when describing the team, but that is never a message we would convey to each other. You know man-for-man how hard you work. 

“Look, England are a proper rugby team. I’ll keep saying it. No one likes us because we are a proper rugby team. Even the South Africans and the Kiwi’s would acknowledge that because they know they are going to be in for a good game when England come to town. There is an expectation with England. We have a long, proud line of rugby history and we come out swinging when we need too.”

Sam Underhill of England (Bath Rugby) during the an England Rugby Training session at the Brighton College, Sussex on the 19th June 2023 – PHOTO: Micah Crook/PPAUK

Turning his attention away from England, Hartley scoured the rest of the Six Nations field and discussed who he has been the most impressed by this year. The former Northampton hooker was delighted to see Italy achieve some significant milestones, as they defeated Scotland 31-29 and should have beaten France, in their 13-13 draw. Speaking on the Azzurri, Hartley has loved their approach in silencing the critics that wanted their removal from the competition.

“Impressive… I just think Italy have shown the rugby world a really good response and quietened down a lot of the noise about them being one of the teams that should potentially be relegated from the tournament or are there to make up the numbers. They have won one game at the tournament.

Italy line up for the anthem during the Six Nations Match between England and Italy at Twickenham, London on 12 Feb 2023 (Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK)

“They should have beaten France, I would have liked to have seen them given a retake on their penalty because players moving when you’re kicking shouldn’t happen. They’ve given a good account of themselves at the tournament. The Italian’s are no mugs and their performances have highlighted that they are a team that is only going to get better.”

Louis Lynagh has been a stand-out story of the Six Nations, as the former Harlequin swapped London for Treviso, with his transfer to Benetton. The wing was then fast-tracked into the Italian squad, and he marked his test match debut with a try against Scotland. Despite being eligible for both England and Australia, Lynagh chose to pursue a career with Italy, in a move that impressed New Zealand-born Hartley.

“Then you’ve got a guy like Louis Lynagh who has chosen to represent Italy. A player like Lynagh could have had a shot with England. His performances at club-level put him in the conversation for a potential England call-up, but I love that the fact that he has gone and said: ‘I want to play for Italy, this is my nation.’ You can only see that having a positive effect on other players that will want to follow in his footsteps and do the same”

Italy’s recent ‘renaissance’ has certainly put a hold on the argument, regarding the need for promotion and relegation between the Six Nations and the Rugby Europe Championship. Hartley explained how this will likely never materialise, but did express how he would like to see the game continue to grow in countries like Portugal, and eyed up an away day to Lisbon.

“The conversation shouldn’t be about relegation. The focus and responsibility must be on developing the game in places like Portugal, Romania, Georgia and Spain. Developing something like a secondary tournament or something ther, I would love Lisbon on the list of away trips. There must be a way to grow the game within Europe. Relegation isn’t a feasible option. All the participating countries are stake holders and will have a say on it, so why would they vote for it? You wouldn’t.”

Italy take on Wales in Super Saturday’s opening match, with Warren Gatland’s men hoping to avoid the dreaded wooden spoon. An Italian win would guarantee Wales a sixth placed finish, yet Hartley believes that the Welsh Dragon will fire back, and backs the hosts to secure the victory at the Principality Stadium.

Tommy Reffell of Wales during the Six Nations Match between England and Wales at Twickenham, London on 10 February 2024 (Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK)

“If there is one thing the Welsh can do, when their back is against the wall, they can come out swinging. I’ve been on the back end of that. Italy will be spurred on by a fantastic performance against Scotland. How can they carry that mantle into this game?

“I was commentating on the game where Josh Adams was given the Man of the Match as he was getting skinned by (Ange) Capuozzo, who set-up the winner when Wales lost 22-21 to Italy in 2022. I think Wales put on a good showing in France, but they came up against a team that was just too strong. I think Wales can do it. I think Wales will win it because of the fear the players will have of not winning a game at the tournament.”

Dylan Hartley (captain) of England with Triple Crown Trophy, after the Six Nations Championship match, between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium, London , UK, on the 12th March 2016.- Photo mandatory by-line: Dean Lancaster/Pinnacle – Tel +44(0) 1363 881025 – Mobile 0797 1270 681 – VAT Reg No: 183700120 – 12/03/2016 – SPORT – RUGBY – RBS Six Nations Championship – England v Wales, Twickenham Stadium, London, UK.

Rounding off his predictions for tomorrow’s blockbuster day, Hartley backs Ireland to win the Six Nations title with a victory over Scotland. The former England captain believes that Andy Farrell’s men are definite favourites for the Dublin clash, despite coming off the back of the defeat to England.

“I think Ireland’s motivation and opportunity makes them favourites in Dublin. If there is a team that can upset anyone, it is probably Scotland, but they just can’t seem to win games back-to-back.

“It’s a consistency issue that they struggle with which must be an emotional problem. I still think Ireland are far too cohesive. They’ll be aware that they will need to be really good this weekend after what happened against England.”