Dylan Hartley will enter England’s RBS 6 Nations opener against Scotland with the belief that everyone wants to see him “muck up”.
Hartley has been installed as captain for the duration of the championship despite a lengthy disciplinary record comprising of over a year of bans for offences including gouging, biting and swearing at a referee.
The 29-year-old hooker is aware that his misdemeanours have burdened him with a reputation, but that understanding has served to enhance his preparation for the Calcutta Cup clash at Murrayfield on Saturday.
“I’ve never prepared for a game so well because I don’t want to be shown up,” said Hartley, who has sought leadership advice from New Zealand great Sean Fitzpatrick.
“The captaincy thing, the whole media circus – the sideshow that I don’t really want to do but I understand that I have got to do – and everyone wanting to see me muck up is making me prepared for this game in a good way.
“Everyone wants to see people fail, don’t they? I just know it is out there, for whatever reason.
“It’s my fault – I’ve created this story – but it isn’t something I look back at. I’m pretty excited to be here. I’m prepared and not over-playing it.
“Looking back on where things have gone wrong in the past, it’s maybe because when games are so big I build something up, so I’m just trying to focus on myself this week.
“It’s about knowing the detail, knowing that I’ve done the work then I can relax and look forward to the game. That’s how I feel now.”
Hartley has spared himself the worst of the criticism by removing his presence on social media, the platform through which he has been previously targeted by trolls following a disciplinary lapse.
“You do open yourself up there and admittedly I have taken Twitter out of my life,” Hartley said.
“It’s not that I can’t handle it because I don’t mind someone calling me out. I usually find it quite entertaining some of the stuff that’s written about me.
“But what it is, is headspace. You shouldn’t be thinking about it either way, whether it’s positive or negative.
“Someone could be blowing smoke up my a*** or someone could be slating me. It’s just irrelevant. It’s just noise. And I don’t need that noise. So I thought I would take it out for a while.”
While the scrutiny since his appointment has focused on Hartley as captain, the front row knows his most critical role is ensuring the set-piece functions.
England’s scrum and line-out have long been the foundations of their game, but during the World Cup and its build-up they unravelled and it is Hartley’s intention to see them restored.
“When I was young there was no expectation,” Hartley said.
“No-one knows your name so all of a sudden you come on, do a couple of nice carries and do something nice with your hands and people say, ‘wow, I’ve never seen someone so fat do something so good’.
“If you look back at those games, I couldn’t throw, I couldn’t scrummage. But now I pride myself on the set-piece areas – the non-negotiables.
“First and foremost, I want to be part of a dominant set-piece. I think I can be integral to that.”