England captain's comeback from concussion-enforced break has so far encompassed two competitive matches from the bench
Dylan Hartley declared himself ready to start after scoring a key try in Northampton’s 25-18 Premiership victory over Harlequins.
Ten minutes after coming on as a third-quarter replacement, Hartley finished the line-out drive that put a dent in the first of Quins’ two fightbacks in a scruffy clash at Franklin’s Gardens.
The England captain’s comeback from a concussion-enforced extended break from the game dating back to March has so far encompassed two competitive matches from the bench, but he is ready to make a full contribution if required.
“There’s always work to do. You can have all the pre-season conditioning but there’s nothing like playing a game. It was good to get some minutes on the board,” Hartley said.
“I rolled my eyes when I saw (hooker) James Fish go down in the first half, a bit like Gloucester last week I thought I’d just be getting a few minutes in the second half.
“I was pretty keen to get on again. It is best when it happens like that when you are least expecting it. It caught me off guard.
“I will be ready for a start whenever the coach picks me for a start. Until then I will support.”
Hartley is expected to be reinstated as England skipper after missing the summer tour to South Africa and against Harlequins he produced a solid 25 minutes in front of Eddie Jones.
“Dylan could have started against Gloucester last weekend,” Saints director of rugby Chris Boyd said.
“We’ve agreed that we’ll pick players, irrespective of past experience, on form. James Fish was really good for us pre-season.
“Dylan’s had a couple of nice little cameos off the bench, we’ll work out before next Saturday whether it’s the right thing for him to start.
“He’ll always make a contribution, he’s a really good footballer, a fierce competitor, a good leader.”
Northampton had to withstand a late surge from Quins who showed resilience to hit back from 25-11 down to haul themselves within inches of a draw.
“These were the type of games we were losing last season. First game at home, we are off the mark, points on the board,” Hartley said.
Paul Gustard slipped to his first defeat as Harlequins boss, but took heart in the display.
“I was more proud of that performance than the one the week before that we won. We had to fight for things. We tried and showed tenacity and resilience,” Gustard said.
England internationals Joe Marler and Mike Brown missed the game with respective dead leg and hand issues, neither of which are serious.