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Six Nations: “From chaos can come light,” says former England captain Dylan Hartley

A painful one, a real one.

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Six Nations: “From chaos can come light,” says former England captain Dylan Hartley

A painful one, a real one. On the pitch, Dylan Hartley was volcanic, enraged. Outside, he is charming and adorable. Today ambassador of the Instant Casino site, the hooker and former captain of England (37 years old, 98 caps) agreed, for Le Figaro, to return to the rich news of the XV de la Rose which, to everyone's surprise, finished third in the last World Cup. There is no shortage of topics: the absence of Owen Farrell, the appointment of Jamie George as captain or the difficult start of Steve Borthwick as coach. And to evoke his love for France. Not just good food and good wine...

What do you expect from England in this 2024 Six Nations Tournament? Dylan Hartley: We need to continue to build on what was done last year. It's been a difficult year. This team is young, many experienced players have retired. Courtney Lawes (his former teammate at Northampton, Editor's note) left, Owen Farrell decided to join Racing 92... The team lost a lot of matches before the last World Cup, but it was in the end a good experience for them. Finishing third in the last World Cup was a great story. This year, for this Six Nations, the team must continue to grow, for the young players to gain experience. We're waiting for the next Courtney to emerge! This is an opportunity to be seized.

Has the XV de la Rose not lost its splendor? England has always been in continuity, without ever going too low. We must therefore draw inspiration from last year, even if it will be difficult because the favorites are France and Ireland. But England, if it gets off to a good start, if it wins its first matches, will also be a candidate for final victory. It's a good team that knows how to behave in this competition. It will start with Italy, the players will have 10 days to prepare well. At the end of the Tournament, England will challenge France in Lyon, the players will then have a seven-eight week experience together. Things will be completely different... The team will then be at its best level.

Were you surprised that England finished third at the last World Cup, the best result of any European team? England knows how to win in all competitions. And losing is often a good thing, as long as you learn from your mistakes. England tightened up, it was a good experience for the team. The media and the fans say that they are not good, that they are useless, that they are not the same team. But when you've been in that environment, when you're a player, you know the margins are so narrow: the bounce of the ball, a referee's decision, a pass that's too soft, a pass that's too hard. This is what makes the difference between one match and another, as we saw with South Africa, who won their three matches towards the title by one point. By one point. The margins are so small. When you are a player, you understand how close you are, how close you were to victory. And then the whole narrative, the whole story is different when you win. So I knew England were a serious team. If she could get out of the group, she could win a quarter-final, a semi-final, a final. Anything can happen on the same day. So I wasn't surprised. I always believed, always hoped that the team would achieve it. Reaching third place was a fair result given their performances. On the other hand, I was very disappointed not to see France in the final.

What void will Owen Farrell leave, who will not participate in this Tournament? Things will be different, that's for sure. But that’s the story of life. Owen chooses to go to France and this provides an opportunity for someone else to fill that void. It's a big void, but England must evolve and life goes on. One day or another, Owen Farrell will retire. It takes a young player to grab the opportunity with both hands. And we can't keep talking with "what ifs." When Owen Farrell was there, people weren't happy. It's funny how history has changed now. We will miss Owen Farrell. I love Owen Farrell, but people were saying we needed Marcus Smith, and all of a sudden we have Marcus Smith, but he's injured...

It's not easy to take over from such a player... It's certain that, on the pitch, the suit to put on is big... But in terms of leadership role, there are players who must consciously step forward to fill the enormous void it will leave. But there are plenty of experienced players in this group: Ellis Genge, Dan Cole, Joe Marler, Jamie George who is fantastic. He's almost an extension of Owen Farrell, because he played his whole career with him. So he's different from Owen, but experience-wise he's got everything England need. And I think there is an opportunity for a lot of young players, or those who have between 25 and 50 caps, to establish themselves.

What do you think of Jamie George, hooker and captain of England like you were? As captain, he is different from Owen (Farrell). Owen doesn't smile, Jamie smiles (smile). Jamie is a very talented rugby player. When he plays and he's having a good day, he's a world-class player. I was never a world-class player. On my best days, I was perhaps "good"... (smile) Above all, he plays well, he inspires the players. His basics are very good, whether in conquest, in touch, in scrum, he is the best in his position. In terms of leadership, he is very sociable with the team, very friendly, very welcoming. It's very important when you have players from ten different clubs meeting. You need someone who can bridge the gap between players. For me, Jamie George is a different and much better player than me, and hopefully a much better captain because I want to see England win.

What do you think of the work started by coach Steve Borthwick? Steve Borthwick is a professor. He is very diligent and intelligent. He is very strong tactically because he is a former side captain, who managed his alignment. He is someone who thinks a lot. I think the right word for Steve would be pragmatic, very sure, very organized, very tactical on how he wants to play the game. He is very diligent in his preparation, he seeks to know how to beat his opponent, he analyzes him and he comes up with a game plan. So he's not the loudest man in the room. He's not Eddie Jones, he's not Fabien Galthié, he's not a very noisy personality. But, behind closed doors, he is the most organized and respected man because he works very hard. He works tirelessly to prepare the team to win.

English clubs have serious financial problems. Does this worry you? If three clubs have been relegated (Wasps, London Irish, Worcester, Editor's note), there is a huge problem. But I believe that from chaos can come light. It was very sad to see these clubs disappear, but it pushes others to change. I think federal contracts would be a good solution for English rugby. We hear about the arrival of Saudi Arabia at the bedside of certain clubs (Leicester, Northampton, Newcastle, Gloucester). A lot needs to change in English club rugby. Unfortunately, some were left behind and there was a domino effect. This has had disastrous consequences for some people... But let's hope that we get to the end of the tunnel and that there will be blue skies at the end.

French rugby experienced dark years before returning to the best level. How do you view your neighbors across the Channel? We see that the best English players come massively to France. French clubs have gained momentum. France has four things good: good weather, good food, good wine and good rugby! (Laughs) It was long said that the French were not professional enough, but that is no longer the case. And then we must not neglect the financial aspect: the currency is also stronger. All of this makes France very attractive today. Currently, it is difficult for the "Home Nations" (England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland) to compete and retain their best elements.

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