England are enjoying a change of scene after extending their winning run to 17 matches, and three wins out of three in this year’s Six Nations, and a city-centre hotel round the corner from the Bodleian Library was an apt place for Hartley to promise some “learning” from the way the Italians disrupted his team with players avoiding rucks so as to position themselves on the English side of the tackle zone.
One of the more subversive Oxford-educated wordsmiths such as Oscar Wilde or John Mortimer might have applauded the Hartley’s phraseology, as well as his honesty. “Hindsight is a bitch,” the skipper said. “If I could go back I would have seen what was happening earlier and dealt with it earlier. It took too long in the first half and that’s my fault. I was confused. Sometimes I saw one or two blue shirts and thought it was a ruck until I saw [Italy scrum-half Edoardo] Gori standing in our passing channel. I questioned the ref and he wasn’t going to change his mind. So I just rolled with it and we a found way to play around it. It’s been addressed, we have learnt from it and if it happens again we will be well tooled up to deal with it.”
Much has been made of Romain Poite’s apparent admonishment to Hartley and his fellow forward James Haskell – “I am a referee, I’m not a coach” – and in another exchange heard over the television microphone, the 52-Test French official gave Hartley some specific advice on the tackle when he said “It’s Law 15.6b”.
“I think we all know that law now,” Hartley said. “We’re all pretty clear on that. For me this is a good lesson to brush up on the laws and know my stuff. I looked in my room and there’s a Bible next to the bed. I should probably replace that [with a lawbook].”