England captain Dylan Hartley set for comeback from concussion

Duncan Bech 21/08/2018
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Dylan Hartley is set for a comeback

Dylan Hartley is set to make his comeback from concussion when Northampton face Glasgow in a pre-season friendly at Franklin’s Gardens on Friday night.

The England captain acted on medical advice by taking an extended beak from the game after becoming symptomatic in the wake of the Six Nations defeat by Ireland in March.

After five months out, he is ready to resume playing in the expectation of being available for the Premiership opener at Gloucester on September 1.

“I’ve been training to play this Friday and to compete for a spot in the team. If I do get into the team and play, then I’ll be in contention for the following weekend,” Hartley said.

Hartley suffered the third significant concussion of his career at Twickenham on March 17, resulting in the recommendation by specialists to rest with no timeline established for his return.

Having been knocked out against France in 2016, he expressed fears that another head injury could end his career, but the 32-year-old hooker has made a full recovery.

The last few weeks of a summer in which he has married his long-term partner Joanne have been spent on a reconditioning programme that has placed him on the brink of making his comeback.

“The summer has been really good. I’ve had a good balance between reconditioning, training, family and social life,” Hartley said.

“Things got done and it was good family time. I’ve had a really well rested summer. Obviously I got a bit agitated watching some rugby on TV, but it was good time out that gave me some perspective to reset goals and things like that. I feel pretty well rested.”

Hartley was replaced by Owen Farrell as England skipper for the June tour to South Africa but is expected to be restored to the role for the autumn series against South Africa, New Zealand, Japan and Australia.

He will co-captain Northampton alongside Alex Waller over the coming season.

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Ulster captain Rory Best excited by new coach Dan McFarland's arrival

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The PRO14 captains at the launch at Celtic Park in Glasgow - Best second from left.

Ulster captain Rory Best admits the players feel reassured by Dan McFarland‘s arrival.

McFarland took up his head coach duties on Monday after the Irish and Scottish unions finally reached agreement over his early release, almost four months after he was named as Jono Gibbes‘ successor.

McFarland’s contract as Scotland assistant coach had been due to run until January and Best feels he has arrived at an ideal time.

While operations director Bryn Cunningham assumed overall charge, coaches Dwayne Peel, Jared Payne, Aaron Dundon and Kevin Geary have continued to prepare the players ahead of their PRO14 opener against Scarlets on September 1.

“It just gives certainty,” the Ireland captain said.

“It hasn’t actually changed a lot of what we have done. We have had that consistency of Jared, Peely and Aaron Dundon with Kevin Geary in there.

“We have worked really hard on the skills with Dan Soper coming in, Peely with his stuff, defence with Jared and we have been pushed hard physically. So we have been able to get all that work done.

“Ye, you always want him in straightaway so he can oversee everything, but in terms of the timing with a week of pre-season and a week to prepare for the first game, and the boys are physically ready to go, it’s just a different mental twist to it.

“He had his first meeting on Monday morning and it was just good to have him there and be around and finally get to meet him.

“I knew him, but for guys who have only ever seen him from the newspaper press release when it was announced, and all the speculation, for them to meet him and for him to sit down in front of the group for the first time was reassuring for everyone.

“Dan didn’t want to come in like a sledgehammer approach. He has used the early part of the week to watch what’s going on from a defensive and attacking point of view.

“We have had that continuity and Dan being Dan and being very thorough, he is seeing how things are done. You want him to add value and not take away from what the boys have done all summer and so far he has done that.”

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Second time is the charm for new Edinburgh captain Stuart McInally

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Stuart McInally - new Edinburgh captain

Stuart McInally believes he is much better-placed to succeed during his second spell as Edinburgh captain.

McInally has been handed the armband for the second time after sharing captaincy duties with Grant Gilchrist during the 2016-17 season, when Edinburgh finished ninth in the PRO12.

The 28-year-old resumes the role a more assured character after he and his club made huge strides last season.

McInally has excelled as a hooker after taking time to adapt following his switch from the front row. He captained Scotland to a 44-15 victory in Argentina in June after helping Edinburgh reach the PRO14 play-offs during Richard Cockerill’s first season in charge.

And McInally feels a changed man as he resumes the role.

“It’s night and day,” he said. “At the time of getting the co-captaincy I didn’t feel it affected me at all, but with how relaxed I am about it now….

“The club is in such a better place. I am from Edinburgh, I have always wanted Edinburgh to do well and maybe before I was doing things over and above what I needed to because I wanted Edinburgh to be good and be great.

“Whereas now I feel all that is taken care of, the club is in a great place, so all that is left for me is just to focus on my side of it and making sure I am training well and playing well.

“I don’t think I need to change anything massively, it’s more about making sure I am in the team and when I’m in the team I am playing well and try to set standards around the place by working hard and doing everything I can to be the best I can be. It’s a big honour and I’m happy to do it.”

McInally feels progressing through difficult times has helped him calm down.

“I try not to get too high or too low,” he said. “Having been in some dark places with Edinburgh and personally as well, it’s good now to be in a place where I can be relaxed doing it.

“I know exactly what is expected and needed from me as a captain and there is no added pressure apart from doing everything I can to play as best I can.

“Understanding why you can’t control the outcomes of certain things is a big part of why I am more relaxed, I just do everything I can to get myself in the best position for Friday night and then whatever happens, happens.”

Cockerill claimed his decision had been “dead easy”.

“He is born and bred in the city, schooled in the city, it’s his club and it makes sense,” the Edinburgh head coach said.

“He knows the highs and lows of the game, he has changed position. Two years ago he was captain with Gilchrist, Gilchrist was injured and Stuart wasn’t good enough to get a game.

“So he deserves to be captain because he’s a world-class player and he has proved that over the past 12 months.”

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