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Page last updated at 14:08 GMT, Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Johnson backs Hartley to respond to Gatland criticism

Northampton hooker Dylan Hartley
Hartley has already had some feisty encounters in Wales this season

England team manager Martin Johnson has backed hooker Dylan Hartley to respond in style to the criticism directed at him by Wales coach Warren Gatland.

Gatland picked out the Northampton player, 24, as a weak link ahead of the opening Six Nations encounter in Cardiff on 4 February.

"It was not particularly subtle and it wasn't unexpected," said Johnson.

"I'm confident Dylan will be fine and his temperament will hold up. He will take this in his stride."

Gatland claimed he saw Hartley "go to pieces" for Northampton against Leicester earlier this season and questioned his temperament.

The Wales coach said: "He's always got a lot to say, hasn't he? Let's see what he has got to offer and how he fronts up against us."

Welsh passion motivates Johnson

At the official launch of the Six Nations in London on Tuesday, Gatland said he did not regret his comments, saying: "There's always a bit of spice between England and Wales. We will see how Dylan responds."

Hartley has not endeared himself to the Wales camp this season, notably in two explosive Heineken Cup matches between Saints and Cardiff Blues, both won by the English side.

A flare-up between the Northampton hooker and opposite number Gareth Williams ended with both being sent to the sin-bin in the Pool One encounter at Franklin's Gardens.

Then Blues' Wales scrum-half Richie Rees received a 12-week ban after being cited for making contact with Hartley's face during the return fixture a week later.

But Johnson has backed his player to ignore Gatland's comments.

"The good thing from our point of view is Dylan Hartley has been down to Wales in a tough European game, taken what they have thrown at him on the field, produced a winning performance as captain and taken a team into the knock-out stages of the Heineken Cup," stated Johnson.

"To be top of the Premiership and come through Europe unbeaten, that takes some doing.

"He's not a young guy anymore, he's got 20-odd caps and he's captained his club in his second season.

"This kind of thing brings teams together. You rally round guys when they have been singled out. You look after your own."

Johnson dismissed Gatland's outburst and alluded to Wales' poor record of late, going seven matches without a victory.


"Warren has done it before with mixed success to say the least," added Johnson. "Let's see what happens this time.

"It was very premature, 10-11 days away from the game but that's how some people react to the pressure.

"Where Wales are, they are under pressure as a team in terms of their performances and not winning a game for a while, it was not unexpected.

"It was pretty obvious to even the youngest member of the squad what he is trying to do.

"It's never been something I have done, you are potentially giving ammunition to the opposition. Ultimately, people remember the game, not who said what."

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see also
Rail strike on Six Nations opener
26 Jan 11 |  Wales
Gatland questions Hartley value
25 Jan 11 |  Welsh
England call up Dowson and Wood
24 Jan 11 |  Rugby Union
Hartley eyes more England Saints
29 Dec 10 |  Northampton
Blues turn down Rees ban appeal
13 Jan 11 |  Cardiff Blues

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