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Dylan Hartley on verge of return, but won't be rushed by Northampton

The England hooker has not played since December with a knee complaint.

Hartley with Owen Farrell, who skippered England during this year's Six Nations.
Hartley with Owen Farrell, who skippered England during this year's Six Nations.
Image: Andrew Fosker/INPHO

ENGLAND CO-CAPTAIN Dylan Hartley is closing in on a return from the knee injury which has sidelined since December.

After February surgery, the hooker returned to training in recent weeks and he could make his comeback in Northampton’s final-round Premiership clash with Exeter Chiefs.

However, neither club are assured of their play-off seeding yet with Chiefs sitting four points ahead of Saracens while fourth-place Saints are just one ahead of Harlequins, so Northampton director of rugby Chris Boyd cautioned that he would not select the 33-year-old just to boost his World Cup hopes.

“It’ll be interesting to see if we finally decide, if he is ready to roll out,” Boyd said yesterday.

“And if he’s not ready to make a contribution to the team, I’m not going to pick him just because I think I need to pick him. If he’s ready to go physically and mentally and I think it’s the right thing to do for the team I’ll pick him. If I think it’s the wrong thing to do I’ll pick one of the other guys,” said Boyd, referring to James Fish and Reece Marshall who have packed down in Hartley’s absence.

I suspect he is desperate to get out there, but he bought into the Saints-first concept like everyone else and he’s got to be in a position where, if he’s on the bench and we lost somebody after five minutes we’ve got to be happy he’s going to be able to play 75 minutes.

“I don’t think he’ll put this team at risk if he feels he’s not 100% right. The signs were good yesterday and he got through a chunk of training today. The signs are looking promising.”

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