Dylan Hartley: An England and Northampton Saints career of highs and lows
England's most capped hooker of all time & three-time Six Nations champion, but was banned for a cumulative total of 60 weeks
By Michael Cantillon
Last Updated: 07/11/19 5:28pm
Dylan Hartley, the Northampton Saints and England hooker, has been forced to retire due to a knee injury. Below we take a look back over a career filled with highs and lows...
Born in New Zealand's Rotorua, Hartley grew up in the country until the age of 15 when he forewent his final year of school to move to his mother's homeland, England, residing with an aunt and uncle in Crowborough. The ambition for a Test career with England was in motion.
In the consequent two decades, the combination of a poor - and much publicised - disciplinary record on the pitch, a frosty relationship with British press and drops in the general standard of his performance on occasion saw negative coverage of his career trump positive.
But having finished as the second-most capped England rugby player of all time with 97, Hartley's was a career which reached considerable highs, in addition to undoubted lows...
Perhaps the most successful period of Hartley's career arrived in recent times under current England coach Eddie Jones.
In the aftermath of England's disastrous 2015 Rugby World Cup campaign - a tournament Hartley was overlooked for - Jones arrived and instantly instilled Hartley as his captain. Both brash and combative, the following two years could hardly have gone better for England under the pair.
The 2016 Six Nations saw Hartley and England secure a first Grand Slam for 16 years. That June, the hooker led England to a history-making 3-0 series whitewash of Australia in Australia.
Five months later, autumn victories over South Africa, Fiji, Argentina and Australia arrived at Twickenham, before another four Six Nations victories in succession came over France, Wales, Italy and Scotland en route to a championship title defence in 2017. Ireland quelled a second Grand Slam and record-equalling 18 Test winning sequence.
In all, Hartley started 17 times in a row within the 18-game run - missing only the meaningless first victory over Uruguay which book-ended the 2015 World Cup.
Hartley went on to captain England to a 2-0 winning tour of Argentina, and another unbeaten November window which saw victories over Argentina, Australia and Samoa.
Hartley also has medals to show for a 2011 Six Nations victory - a campaign where he started all five Tests - plus club honours with Northampton as he picked up a Challenge Cup title in 2009 and Premiership title in 2014.
Having retired after 250 appearances for the Saints and 13 years of service, he departs a genuine club legend.
In June 2016, he became the most capped England hooker of all time when he ran out to face Australia in Melbourne, while February 2018 saw him became the second-most capped England international of all time at Murrayfield. A list which includes players as far back as the 1870s.
No matter the negatives, Hartley enjoyed some of the highest of highs.
60 weeks worth of suspensions...
Tenacious, aggressive, energetic and a sound set-piece operator, the alternative side to Hartley was a player who lost control and overstepped the mark on the pitch on too many occasions.
Indeed, his charge sheet makes for near ridiculous reading and tallies up to an extraordinary 60 weeks of suspension - one year and two months.
Hartley's first brush with rugby authorities was his most severe and arrived in April 2007, when he was banned for a total of 26 weeks after being found guilty of making contact with the eyes of Wasps pair James Haskell and Jonny O'Connor.
In 2012, two suspensions followed as he was banned for eight weeks in March after biting Ireland back-row Stephen Ferris' finger in a Six Nations clash, before December 2012 brought a two-week ban for punching Ulster's Rory Best.
May 2013 saw Hartley captain Northampton in the Premiership final against Leicester but leave in disgrace as he was red carded in the first half for 'verbally abusing' referee Wayne Barnes - calling the official a 'cheat' and earning an 11-week suspension.
December 2014 saw a three-week ban handed Hartley's way for elbowing Leicester's Matt Smith in the face, while later that same season Hartley was suspended for four weeks after headbutting Saracens hooker Jamie George in May 2015.
And in December 2016, in the wake of a fantastic spell with England under Jones, Hartley lost his cool again as he caught Leinster's Sean O'Brien in the head with a vicious swinging arm, resulting in a six-week ban, taking the total number of weeks missed due to suspension to a remarkable 60.
Unfortunately, such ill-discipline is something Hartley will always be remembered for.
The lost big days...
As a result of such indiscipline and also due to a number of ill-fated injuries, Hartley's career is also characterised by lost days.
He fought his way to the top of the sport, only to miss out on several of the greatest occasions.
His enormous 26-week ban back in 2007 ruled out any possibility to go to that year's World Cup. His four-week ban in 2015 for clashing with compatriot George ultimately cost him his squad place under Stuart Lancaster for the 2015 home World Cup.
The hooker also missed the most recent World Cup in Japan courtesy of the knee injury which forced his retirement.
His only World Cup participation to show for a 14-year professional career came in 2011, and was marred by an official warning after a hotel employee complained she had been subjected to 'lewd banter', seeing him lose his starting place and England subsequently suffer quarter-final exit.
His 11-week suspension for 'verbal abuse' of referee Barnes in the 2013 Premiership final, saw him removed from that summer's British & Irish Lions tour to Australia, while he missed out on the chance to tour his native New Zealand with the Lions in 2017 due to concerns over his temperament also - ending his career never having worn the famous invitational shirt.
At club level, a fractured shoulder robbed Hartley the chance to lead Northampton to 2014 Challenge Cup glory, while he was forced to start the victorious Premiership final of the same year on the bench.
Hartley also captained Northampton to European Cup final defeat in 2011, a game during which they held a mammoth 16-point half-time lead, only to lose to Leinster 33-22 in Cardiff.
For all his medals, Hartley will unquestionably have regrets when he looks back and at just 33, he's been forced to call it a day too early.