Former England rugy captain, Dylan Hartley
Former England rugy captain, Dylan Hartley Credit: Hamish Brown

Dylan Hartley三级成人视频 captained the England rugby team and won 97 caps during a turbulent 16-year career that was curtailed by injury in 2019, and the rewards are readily apparent. Just before lockdown he and his family moved into a gorgeous old sandstone farmhouse, newly renovated and replete with outhouses, a walled garden and three secluded acres, close to Princess Diana’s childhood home of Althorp in the lush Northamptonshire countryside. 

三级成人视频The costs are equally apparent. Hartley, a front row forward, suffered more than the usual cauliflower ears. He suffered broken bones, torn ligaments, snapped tendons, punctured lungs, popped ribs, nerve damage and bulging discs in his spine. He missed 1,320 days through injury (plus another 60 weeks through suspensions for foul play). At 34 he is still a young man, but his body is broken.

He limps out to meet me in shorts, T-shirt and a baseball cap. He has problems with his back, hips, knees, wrists and ankles, he tells me. He tried jogging gently down his drive during the lockdown and could not walk for a week. He put his hip out mowing the lawn. He struggles to complete a family stroll. He has to descend stairs sideways. He sits with his right leg crossed over his left one to stretch his damaged 
hip flexor muscles. He cannot bend or straighten his left thumb. He cannot jump on a trampoline with his four-year-old daughter, Thea, or even play ‘Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’ with her.

'Hartley insists his career was worth the pain' Credit: Hamish Brown

‘When you’re sore and your hips are burning and your back is burning, it’s hard to be Dad of the Year all the time,’ he says. ‘Everyone told me that when you retire your body feels great. I feel completely the opposite.’

三级成人视频And then there is the damage that cannot yet be gauged – the brain damage from three serious concussions in recent years and others suffered before concussion became a recognised injury a decade or so ago. Right now the manifestations are minor. Hartley occasionally drops things or muddles words, and gets dizzy easily. He tries not to think what he might be like in 10 or 15 years. ‘I try to enjoy what’s happening now, but it’s always a concern,’ he says.

Hartley insists his career was worth the pain. He led England to its first Six Nations Grand Slam in 13 years and on a victorious tour of Australia. He is England’s most capped hooker and only two other players have won more England caps. He led his club, Northampton Saints, to a premiership title. He had a lot of fun and provided handsomely for his family.

As captain, Hartley lifts the cup as England celebrate their Six Nations win in Paris, March 2016 Credit: David Rogers - RFU

But it was a Faustian bargain. His body creaks, he says, as he prepares to publish 
an autobiography entitled, appropriately, The Hurt. He feels like a dog – far older than his nominal age. He says rugby needs radical reform, and must do much more to protect players as the game becomes ever more brutal.

‘My generation of players have been crash dummies for a sport in transition from semi-professionalism. It is being re-shaped, subtly but relentlessly, by money men, geo-politicians, talking heads and television executives. They treat us as warm bodies, human widgets,’ he complains in the book.

‘It would be wrong to attempt to skirt the unavoidable truth that as players become bigger, faster and stronger they will be chewed up and spat out quicker. It is a given, therefore, that we need to insist on the highest standards of care.’

三级成人视频In the kitchen, Hartley’s wife, Jo, who gave birth to their second child, Rex, in March, tells me she is happy and relieved that her husband has played his final game. ‘It was awful. I couldn’t watch sometimes,’ she says. After some games she would have to stick his ears back in place with surgical glue, or drain them of fluid with a needle. ‘It was just horrendous.’

With wife Jo and Thea, 2018 Credit:  Getty Images

三级成人视频She is now studying nutritional remedies and pushing her husband to have physiotherapy. ‘I’m doing a repair job,’ she says. ‘I’m trying to put him back together.’

Nobody would call Hartley soft. He was born and raised in rural New Zealand. He was playing barefoot rugby with his Maori peers at nine. At 16 he flew to England, his mother’s homeland, to escape school and see the world. He swiftly made the England Under-18 squad, but doubts he would ever have played professional rugby in New Zealand given its depth of talent.

三级成人视频He was signed up by Worcester, but paid so little he had to steal food and repair his boots with duct tape. He was wild, he says, feral. In one match he used a ruck to pummel his rival for a place in the England Under-19 squad so badly that the victim had to leave the pitch. ‘It was an indefensible act,’ he now admits.

In 2006 he moved to Northampton Saints. He played his first game for England two years later, but repeatedly fell foul of the law. He was banned for a record six months for eye gouging, eight weeks for biting an opponent’s finger, six weeks for a straight arm tackle, four for a head butt, three for elbowing someone in the face, two for a punch.

三级成人视频He was sent off during Northampton’s 2013 premier league final against Leicester at Twickenham for allegedly calling the referee, Wayne Barnes, a ‘f—king cheat’ (he insists he was addressing one of the other players). His suspensions cost him his place in two World Cups and a British & Irish Lions tour of Australia.

‘It’s fair to say I have a distinctive rap sheet. Drop the scroll and it is in danger of unravelling and rolling out of the door,’ he writes. Some of the suspensions were justified, others not, he says. A few of his explanations border on the comical. ‘I flirted with his eye,’ he says of the eye-gouging charge. ‘The point of my elbow made contact with his nose,’ he says of the elbowing incident. ‘I put my head on his temple, beside his right ear,’ he says of the head butt.

He concedes that he has ‘erred by reacting impulsively in the heat of the moment, when boundaries are blurred by emotion and competitive instinct… I need to be simmering to be effective, and occasionally that intensity has worked against me.’

But he calls rugby’s disciplinary panels a ‘f—king shambles’. They stick rigidly to the letter of the law instead of using common sense and ‘taking a more human approach’. They are a gravy train, he says. They use incomprehensible language. The England team has to have its own QC. ‘The disciplinary system needs a hell of a clean-up.’

Hartley did play in the 2011 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, but neither he nor his teammates covered themselves in glory. ‘I regret, bitterly, that I didn’t treat the 2011 World Cup with the seriousness it deserved,’ he writes in his book.

Yellow carded during the World Cup, 2011 Credit: Reuters

三级成人视频In the final days before flying out ‘we went on the booze, big time’, he writes. By the end of the 24-hour flight out, ‘The pride of English rugby… had assumed the renegade mentality of a club Extra B team, determined to do damage on an end-of-season stag trip to Magaluf.’ Instead of going to bed, the players then ran up a £2,000 bar bill in their hotel’s casino. Amid the ‘carnage’ one ‘shoulder-charged a bedroom door off its hinges, searching for the teammate he suspected had taken a dump in his bathroom sink’.

Things went downhill from there. Hartley and two others were accused – wrongly – of harassing a hotel maid. Players were accused of dwarf-throwing in a bar. ‘Did we have a laugh and a dance that turned into a drunken wrestle with the little people? Sure, but no offence was taken,’ says Hartley. There were riotous excursions. One of the players received a police caution for jumping off a ferry in Auckland harbour. Riven by factionalism, hobbled by indiscipline, the team crashed out to France in the quarter-finals.

三级成人视频Hartley was, he admits, a ‘fully accredited member of the wild boys’, but that tour was the start of what he calls a ‘five-year process of personal realignment’ that culminated in Eddie Jones appointing him England captain in 2016. Jones was a great coach, he says, but by far the toughest he ever had. He drove his players to the brink.

三级成人视频During Hartley’s career, rugby players grew bigger and stronger, faster and fitter. When he started the big ones weighed 19st – now they weigh 22. Few professionals last beyond the age of 30 any more. Injuries are more frequent and more serious. A Six Nations tournament leaves some 60 players hobbled. In the 2017-2018 season alone 140 players were concussed. Only National Hunt racing suffers more.

A 2018 scrum Credit: REUTERS

三级成人视频His descriptions in the book are not for the squeamish. In the scrum ‘you hear people wheezing as their wind supply gets cuts off. They emit a long, low groan as the pressure intensifies. Dribble seeps out and runs down their chin.’ By the end of the game ‘your face is inflamed by mud, sand and the opponent’s bristles… everything stings around your neck and jaw from scrummaging. Dirt and sand scour tiny abrasions. Having a hot shower is agony.’

三级成人视频He has been stitched up in changing rooms and sent back out to play ‘with huge gashes over my eye, which in any sane world would entail a visit to A&E’. Players cut the ends off their boots so they can play with broken toes. They ‘gobble painkillers like Smarties’. After matches ‘dressing rooms are like M*A*S*H clearing houses… People are being put back together with stitches and glue. Senior players have bits falling off them.’ Often he was so stiff the next day that he could not wipe his own backside.

Then came Eddie Jones, who took the enormous risk of appointing Hartley captain despite his abysmal disciplinary record. ‘He was clearly a leader of men,’ Jones wrote in his own autobiography. ‘I thought he was nasty bastard. But there was something about him. I was looking for someone with a hard edge, and he had that in spades.’

三级成人视频Hartley says of Jones, ‘He didn’t revive my career. He gave me a career. I had a s—t career before that. I had played a lot of games but I had nothing to show for it.’ He oozes respect for a man who has transformed the culture of England rugby and turned the flops of the 2015 home World Cup into winners capable of playing brilliant rugby. ‘A hundred per cent,’ Hartley replies when I ask if Jones was the best coach he played for.

三级成人视频But Jones was relentless, unforgiving, utterly pitiless in his quest for perfection. He set out to disrupt, unsettle, challenge. ‘Anyone who looked even slightly out of shape had about as much chance of survival as a wildebeest wandering into a herd of lions,’ Hartley writes.

Players were frightened of him. They dreaded training camps. Even the assistant coaches called their families in secret ‘because they didn’t want to give Eddie the impression they were anything less than 100 per cent devoted to the cause’. Hartley stopped his own family visiting on days off because ‘it would have felt like a prison visit’.

With head coach Eddie Jones after beating Wales in 2018 Credit:  David Rogers - RFU

Players were pushed to their physical limits as Jones demanded ever more of them. Because there was no recovery time ‘two words recurred when we talked among ourselves, “I’m f—ked”’. There were times, says Hartley, ‘when playing for England felt a bit like taking part in one of those brutal dance marathons in the Great Depression of the 1920s, where penniless couples kept going until they collapsed’.

三级成人视频As captain, Hartley had to train harder than anyone, and by match day ‘I was absolutely f—king bollocksed,’ he says. Jones was supportive in public, but would bawl at him in private – ‘That was f—king s—t, mate. That’s f—king s—t… you’re s—t. You shouldn’t be here.’

三级成人视频And then there was the manner of Hartley’s eventual dismissal. He was desperate to go to last year’s World Cup in Japan, but had injured his knee. He begged for a chance to recover before Jones excluded him from the squad, but in vain.

‘You’re f—ked, mate,’ Jones told him over the phone. ‘Even by the standards of the 6am texts he delivers while running on the treadmill, which make the recipient’s balls tighten and the brain melt, this phone call was brutal… He was effectively ending my England career with three words,’ says Hartley in his book.

Dyland during the Rugby Six Nations England v Wales game Credit:  Paul Childs

三级成人视频Hartley now says that Jones did what he had to, and that his methods worked, but he felt ‘like a piece of meat, thrown in the bin because it was past its sell-by date’. By the end, ‘I’d had enough of being governed by Eddie.’

三级成人视频Many rugby players find retirement hard. They miss the structure, excitement and camaraderie of the game. A lot suffer depression and other mental health problems.

Hartley is not one of them. By the end of his career family took precedence over rugby. The endless travelling had palled. Club games, especially, had become a chore. ‘It’s not like you’re talking to a kid who didn’t get where he wanted. I got where I wanted and I stayed there a very long time so playing for me in the end was work,’ he says.

三级成人视频‘Even with the England thing that was great. But if I’m honest it was just turning up, wanting just to get through the game and win so I could have a nice week, an easier week with Eddie.’ His home is not cluttered with memorabilia of his glory days, and he was able to watch England play in Japan without wishing he was there.

三级成人视频But his severance from the game has nonetheless been harsh and abrupt. He last heard from Jones when he replied to a text Hartley sent him fully four months ago. Northampton, for whom Hartley played 251 games, curtailed his consultancy with the club because of the financial impact of the lockdown. Sponsors stopped supplying kit. Nobody picks up his ongoing medical bills – not the rugby authorities and certainly not the insurance companies whose policies exclude concussion and ‘wear and tear’.

He is not bitter, but he is scornful of the administrators who will ‘still have their noses in the trough when we are waiting for our knee operations’, and of the ‘committee man whose game is lubricated by gin and tonic rather than blood, sweat and tears’. He says crunching tackles are part of the game and cannot be avoided, but the authorities should do much more to ensure the well-
being of past and present players.

三级成人视频England internationals should be centrally contracted so they play far fewer games for their clubs. The season should be cut to six months, with premiership clubs playing each other once not twice. Contact training, or what he calls ‘bone to bone’ training, should be restricted to the pre-season to avoid injuries.

He also says club and international players should be paid much more, given the brevity and precariousness of their careers. They need a much stronger union to fight for their rights and strike if necessary. ‘They’ve got the muscle,’ he says. ‘The players are the assets and they should hold all the power because without the assets there is no game.’ The problem is that ‘when you’re playing you don’t really care because you’re getting paid and no one wants to 
play a political battle because you get seen as a troublemaker’.

Hartley is fortunate. He earned well. He played to 33. He has a lovely family. As a former England captain he now does corporate gigs and gives talks on leadership. He launches a weekly podcast this month. He turned down an invitation to participate in the Channel 4 reality show SAS: Who Dares Wins because his body was broken, but is working enthusiastically with a company developing an impact-reducing technology. He does the school run, and dreams of setting up a coffee-roasting business.

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The interview over, he walks me round his new property. Workmen are laying lawns. He says Earl Spencer invited him and Jo to dinner at Althorp after they moved in – ‘I’m rubbing shoulders,’ he laughs. He points out a Roman bridge across a brook at the bottom of his land. There is a rudimentary gym in an open-sided barn where he lifts weights to ‘keep the body fat away’. In an outhouse he shows me cardboard boxes full of old England shirts that he gives to charity auctions – ‘What else am I going to do with them?’

He leads me proudly round his vegetable garden, pointing out the gooseberries, currants, lettuces, blueberries, leeks, beans and tomatoes. ‘I love it. It’s all I want to do,’ he says of the garden. ‘If I had a hobby it would be being at home and doing things.’

三级成人视频How he is remembered as a rugby player ‘really doesn’t matter. It’s done now,’ he says as I leave. The wild man has been tamed.

The Hurt, by Dylan Hartley, is out on 
3 September (Viking, £20). Order your copy from books.telegraph.co.uk