England's Dylan Hartley insists his disciplinary record will not be an issue when he is reunited with Ireland's pack in Dublin this weekend.
The hooker received an eight-week ban after being found guilty of biting the Irish flanker Stephen Ferris in last season's corresponding fixture and was also suspended for two weeks for striking his opposite number Rory Best in a Heineken Cup game in December.
Despite his previous indiscretions, the 26-year-old Hartley is hoping to be recalled to the English starting lineup and is adamant he will steer clear of further trouble without losing his competitive edge. "I imagine that when I'm on the field I'm going to get a little more stick from the crowd but I won't change my approach," he said, citing past attempts by Wales to rattle him before a big Six Nations game. "You could probably compare it to the time I got a wind-up from another camp … if anything it makes me slightly more focused."
Hartley, vying for the starting jersey with Leicester's Tom Youngs, also says England will learn from their last Six Nations visit to Dublin two years ago when the grand-slam chasing visitors were well beaten. "We just got blown away … the intensity they brought to that game in the first 20 minutes was unbelievable. I remember we got rolled in the first scrum of the game, they got a big shunt on, were awarded a penalty and the crowd went wild. Those of us who experienced it can share that with the current crop."
Ireland's fast start against Wales last weekend was similarly impressive and England have already stressed the importance of making an early statement themselves, having dominated the Irish scrum at Twickenham last season. "They obviously put a big emphasis on the way they start the game," stressed Hartley. "We need to front up emotionally, not just physically. You need to be right in the head.
"We'd like to dominate the scrum again but they've got a lot of pride and they're technically very good. They're not just going to roll over, especially on home turf. We're expecting a bit of a response after last year."
The Northampton player's potential battle with Best is just one of several intriguing match-ups with a Lions tour looming this summer. "He's a key man in their team and one of their main guys in the choke-tackle area," said Hartley. "He's a good player and key to their success up front."
England's starting lineup will be confirmed on Friday before the entire squad transfer across the Irish Sea. Hartley believes the visitors' collective desire to maintain their recent momentum is a powerful weapon: "There is a fear of not performing but as long as we get that mental side right I think we can do well. Going into the Scotland game there was the fear that if we didn't perform we'd undo the All Blacks victory. If we don't perform this weekend we'll undo the Scotland one.
"Last year no one really gave us a chance but we played three away games and got three results. In terms of away rugby we've done it. Mentally we'll be OK."
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