Why England's Six Nations challenge is reliant on head overruling heart for Dylan Hartley and James Haskell

Bob Baker
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Hartley has been tasked with proving his fitness for England's opening match (Source: Getty)

The inevitable roles that Dylan Hartley and James Haskell will play in the Six Nations must reinforce the preponderance of mental strength over physical fortitude.

There can be little argument against the notion that Haskell is a physical specimen; indeed, all of those who choose to subject themselves to his incessant social media bombardments are intimately aware of his muscularity.

However, the dense, red fibres will be gasping for air should he be selected to start England’s opening fixture.

Read more: Why Elliot Daly got the nickname "Briefcase" at Wasps

Likewise, Dylan Hartley may find his boots weigh a kilo or two more than when he previously strapped into them.

In advance of selection the Northampton scrapper must survive a flogging by way of running track in an effort to ascertain whether he is in the required condition to stumble through several rounds of the opening bout against France, on 4 February.

If he passes, he still will not be at full tilt. Even after the most torturous preseason, no player is ever in peak condition, irrespective of the extent to which they firmly ripple through the panels of an undersized T-shirt.

At this point, mentalities take over as the mind persuades one’s structure that it can keep going when it cannot.

Fortunately for England, Haskell has the arrogance and Hartley the hard edge to keep the locomotive rolling even when it is depleted of coal.

Rugby is one game where mind can outmanoeuvre matter, and England must hope that Haskell and Hartley have the cerebral capacity allied to a sufficiently high cardiovascular threshold to carry themselves, and the sweet chariot, home.

Transfer market

As is the case in the new year, the transfer market rumour mill begins to turn as clubs scramble to get the big names signed up for fear of being left with third dibs later on.

Yet so far there has been a distinct lack of inspirational signings, confirmed or otherwise.

Saracens have added Calum Clark, a player whose indiscretions and untimely injuries have meant he has never become the international he was tipped to be, to their deep ranks in the back row.

Similarly to Chris Robshaw, Clark is very much a “six-and-a-half”: often played as an open-side flanker, but in reality at least a yard short on pace.

He does, however, have the work ethic of a shire horse, and a comparably sized set of lungs.

On a training camp with the Royal Marines he out-swam and out-lifted some of Her Majesty’s finest physical trainers, to their deep embarrassment.

With Schalk Burger and Jonathan Rhodes among Sarries’ options, Clark will be a squaddie rather than the general.

He will likely get good game time but not be the favoured pick for a Champions’ Cup final.

Likewise, Leicester are being linked with Toulon’s Maxime Mermoz, a regular member of the France squad.

The Toulonnais has had some good seasons historically but he is no inspiration.

He could come at great cost and yet do little to change Tigers’ fortunes, with management perhaps likely to achieve a better return on investment elsewhere.

We await bigger headlines.

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