Hartley accepts England are the team to beat

Sat, 11 Nov 2017 06:31

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: History means England will always be a prized scalp for their opponents but captain Dylan Hartley accepts their revival under coach Eddie Jones has made the Red Rose an even more inviting target.

England have won 19 Tests and lost just one - when denied a second straight Grand Slam by Ireland in March - since Australian boss Jones took charge following the side's first-round exit at the 2015 World Cup.

They begin their November campaign against Argentina at Twickenham on Saturday, with England now back among the favourites for the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

"Naturally just being England we've always had a target on us," Hartley told reporters at the squad's training base in Bagshot, southwest of London.

"But now we're not the surprise any more," the hooker added. "We expect to give people a good, hard game and I think that now people know that. Maybe we are targeted and must be better now."

The New Zealand-born hooker is happy to accept that challenge and the need for England is to raise their game if they are to topple the world champion All Blacks in two years' time. 

"We've had two great years as an evolving team, as a bit of an unknown team," Hartley, 31, explained. "But two years out from a World Cup we've got to be better.

"People are obviously aware now that we're an improved team and we need to kick on and improve," the Northampton stalwart added.

England have already beaten the Pumas, a 2019 World Cup pool opponent, three times under Jones including a 2-0 series win in Argentina earlier this year. 

While their immediate focus is on Argentina, Hartley said England were well aware of the wider context.

"When we prepare for a game it's all about that game, but at the right time we speak about the bigger picture, which is about being the best team in the world and winning a World Cup," Hartley said.

"Our belief's been growing, but now it's there 100 percent that we can be better, that we can get to number one and we win a World Cup.

"If you don't have these kind of goals, these dreams, and you don't talk about them, then you've got no chance of achieving them. You've got to talk about it."

This Saturday is set to see Hartley face one of his toughest opponents in Pumas skipper and fellow hooker Agustin Creevy.

"We want to be a better performance in a team that's evolved since the summer [June]," Hartley said. 

"Results were good in the summer but there were things in the game that weren't quite good enough. Set-piece for one. And we were on the wrong side of too many penalties.

"Obviously you're playing Argentina, so what makes them tick? Set-piece. And who's in the middle of that - Agustin Creevy.

"Creevy is the captain and he makes them tick. I want us to evolve as a team and pull away. I want us to be so much better than we were in the summer [June]."

Agence France-Presse