Hartley won't stand for Grand Slam 'failure'

Sun, 12 Mar 2017 20:49

REACTION: England may have already retained the Six Nations title but captain Dylan Hartley warned it would represent a significant "failure" for the side if they did not go on to complete a Grand Slam this coming weekend.

Hartley's men overwhelmed Scotland 61-21 at Twickenham on Saturday to win their second straight Six Nations crown under coach Eddie Jones and equal New Zealand's record of 18 successive Test wins by a 'tier one' or leading rugby union nation.

They now travel to Dublin for a match against Ireland on Saturday where a win would see them become just the sixth team in the history of the Championship's various guises, and first since France in 1998, to complete back-to-back Grand Slams.

England will head across the Irish Sea in confident mood after a seven-try rout of Scotland, including centre Jonathan Joseph's impressive hat-trick, helped them post the highest points total by either side in the history of rugby union's oldest international fixture.

Australian boss Jones said completing two Grand Slams in a row would mean his England side had achieved "greatness" and the point was not lost on Hartley.

"Eddie talked to us about that [greatness] a little bit. We talked about it as well," Hartley said.

"We have two options - there's failure on one side or you can kick on and get better and hit those lofty heights," the New Zealand-born hooker added.

"The performance against Scotland was pretty ruthless so it was a good progression for the team, but we've only equalled New Zealand's record. We'd like to go one further.

"We want to be the best team in the world, but we're not. That's the reality - we're not. But we've got something to aim for."

Only three England teams have won successive Grand Slams, with Will Carling's men the last to do back in 1991-92.

England had all but beaten Scotland at 30-7 come half-time - the first occasion this Six Nations they had been ahead at the interval.

Joseph was in scintillating form, the speed and angle of his runs proving far too much for a fragile Scotland defence as he tormented opposing centres Alex Dunbar and Huw Jones.

But he was also the beneficiary of excellent line-out work by lock Courtney Lawes and some precise passing by midfield colleagues Owen Farrell and George Ford.

"People have been asking for a better start from the team and we hit the ground running," said Hartley.

"There were some good improvements, but we've set the bar pretty high and we will have to meet those expectations again next week."

Scotland can still finish second in the Six Nations if they beat Italy at Murrayfield on Saturday and other results go their way.

Victory against the Azzurri would be a fitting farewell to Vern Cotter, who will be overseeing his final match as Scotland coach before joining French club Montpellier.

The New Zealander has helped Scotland climb to fifth in the world rankings and, following home wins over Ireland and Wales this season, they had arrived in London with genuine hope of a first win at Twickenham since 1983.

"Vern has done a great job with this squad and now we want to go out and prove we're a better squad than we showed at Twickenham," said Scotland's Henry Pyrgos.

The Glasgow scrumhalf added: "Vern won't want us focusing on him but it will definitely be something in the background. We are conscious that we want to finish his reign in the right way."

Agence France-Presse

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