Ex-England Rugby Captain Dylan Hartley talks to Staz about the military, his rugby career & ThruDark
Dylan Hartley Interview
Dylan was the captain of England from January 2016 until the end of his international career in 2018. He is England’s most capped hooker of all time, earning his first cap in 2008. Hartley captained England to the Grand Slam in 2016, the first time that England had done this since 2003, and to a 3-0 series win in the 2016 Cook Cup against Australia.
Staz sat down with ThruDark ambassador Dylan Hartley live on Instagram to chat through all things England Rugby, ThruDark & how he and Staz met.
What trait do you think a person must have to achieve in a sporting world? Achieve could mean different things to different people?
Dylan: Personally, I think resilience is a big one. Obviously to play a sport or to do what you do in Special Forces (SF), there’s a physical resilience to be able to keep going and deal with injuries and sit back when the going gets tough to keep pushing on through. I think the mental resilience to keep at it to make a career out of it. A lot of people can achieve short term success and short term goals but to sustain it to stay at the top of your game in either SF or the sporting world I think requires a huge amount of mental resilience to turn up when it hurts, to keep going when it hurts.
Staz: For me this is pretty much carbon copy of what I got wrote down for how I would answer that question for myself and from my background. One of the things that at the very top of the list was mental robustness. You can train to be physically fit and we know that we’ve seen that. Especially from my background from selection right up into running at the top within the teams. That physical fitness must be there. But mental robustness is massive and that takes over the physical fitness for a large majority of that.
For me, doing that selection process and putting yourself in the hurt locker, probably so much you going through that training and being amongst that kind of alpha male environment and trying to set yourself apart from everybody else and keep going and motivating yourself, I think for me is that reason, why you’re doing that has to be bigger than your reason to want to quit. For me, that was a big thing for me for different reasons.
Did your “why” ever change?
Dylan: I know that when I went through my rugby career, my why changed. When you’re 18, 19, 20 you’re up and coming. You just want to be this professional, but I wanted to be a professional, I wanted to play all around the world. I wanted to earn good money; I want to do all these things. Then towards the end of my career, it was probably more about legacy, make the most of an opportunity because I could see the end coming. I could see the real world coming.
Staz: I thought exactly the same thing. When you’re going in – I did selection 21 years old. I was still wet behind the ears. Very limited life experience or knowledge going into that. My why was stronger at the time, I didn’t feel like the job I was doing in the marines was holding me down. I wanted to keep progressing, I had that fire in my belly to keep going, to keep pushing, to keep pursuing, putting that pressure on myself I guess and having maybe the external pressures that we’ve got on ourselves as well be it, family or anything else. The risk or the fear of failure was pretty huge for me as well.
Also knowing that I didn’t have anything great to go back to in the old job.
What was your proudest moment as England captain?
I think the first year I got it, so 2016, it was a shit show at the world cup and I wasn’t there. I wasn’t involved through a suspension, so I guess that was a silver lining.
We were in trouble but the silver lining is when my fingerprints weren’t on that and Eddie came in and needed someone that wasn’t attached to that, I got the job and the whole narrative. With me through my whole whether it was right or wrong, was that probably I wasn’t that good, or good enough, my disciplinary was shocking. Which I’ve made right from my own back, but the whole media narrative was fairly negative around me.
It was like a subplot for me in terms of motivation, it wasn’t my motivation but I was aware of it and when I lifted that Six Nations grand slam with the team, after five games in charge first time in 13 years, it brought that good feeling, it was almost like I put a few of those demons to bed and I could walk into a media session and just look people in the eye and just give them a little wink and just say, “Yes, I’m doing the business.” (Photo credit: The Sun Newspaper)
Everybody knows you Dylan, England rugby player, captain & a real legend of the game. What are you doing now after your rugby career? Did you have any difficulty with transitioning initially to retirement from 100% professional athlete or was everything kind of mapped out?
I built towards retirement; I had an injury for about a year. I knew it was coming. It’s like the grim reaper was there waiting for me.
The hardest thing was admitting to yourself that it’s time. I could still close quarters and kind of mix it in with the best of them but when you cannot run, rugby is a game where you need to be able to run. My knee didn’t work, so I knew it was coming so mentally I’d almost transitioned and at the later stage of my career, I started to networking quite heavily, investing off the field in terms of partnerships and the network which I feel is something you guys do so well.
I knew it was coming. It’s still hard to make that decision, stand in front of a room of people and say you’re done.
I’d kind of been involved with a resurgence under Eddie Jones within the rugby team. 2015 was at rock bottom. Eddie came in and gave me a pretty significant role within that and we managed to turn things around and you get a good feeling back in that England shirt. I basically contributed to the three years pre-world cup, then the final year, my leg pretty much fell off. I started turning to a little bit of media work and I’m there promoting my team. The team I was involved with building. I genuinely thought they’d go and win the world cup and to see a team that you’d been with from the embryonic stage to almost go on and lift that trophy was quite difficult.
By the time the world cup was on, I’d actually retired in my head. It was a little bit easier to deal with it.
Who inspired you to be the rugby player that you were and this could be a multitude of people or a singular person?
Always really inspired by my dad. My dad is not really a rugby guy.
He’s a Kiwi guy so he grew up playing rugby, but we all did. He never pushed me, he’s never that rugby dad that went through my clips and evaluated my game. He would always work on a Saturday when I played, I got a little lift when I look in the distance and see his work truck pull up and he’d always stand behind the post in his work gear. Then he might see me after the game and then he’d bugger off back to work.
Everyone’s dad or most people’s dad is their kind of hero. It’s not different for me. It wasn’t because he was some sort of rugby nut. It was just wanted to make my dad proud and all of my immediate family.
What’s your favourite sporting moment that you weren’t involved in?
Do you know what, I’m releasing a book (And that’s not a plug) but the reason I mention it is that I’ve got my mum to send all my childhood photos over for my book, and going through my photos, I was the average Chicago Bulls, Michael Jordan fan. Everyone’s on it now like Jordan the best.
Do you feel clothing and equipment is essential to success? Did you have any rituals in your pregame? I used to have weird stuff like that when I played football, I’d always put this sock on first and so on, this boot and then that boot?
I brought two right-footed boots to a game one time and I was too young to ask anyone for another set of boots so I had to play in two right-footed boots, obviously when you play professional and you’ve got like three or four pairs of boots. Your training boots, your soft ground, hard ground and I packed my bag two right-hand boots and I went on too embarrassed to mention it so I played – loosen the laces and I played in two right-hand boots.
I saw the boys going through their careers, really structured with meals and stuff like that when you go to an away hotel and they don’t have the food you like so I ended up not playing with a gum shield also because I’ve lost it that many times and you just know if you rely so heavily on something the day that it’s not there for you something you can’t control, it can really mess up your prep. So, the older I got the more relaxed I got, it was just turn up to work and do your job.
Staz: I think there’s some sort of crossover with us but clearly clothing and equipment is super, super important for the guys within special forces. Fortunate in so much that they get provided the best kit and equipment from weapons, optics and ammunition and clothing as well. Yes, a super important part of it as well for and would also potentially give you that tactical advantage as well, you think in night times and communications and everything else.
Dylan: Really, really important and I can see why in your world, but in sport like every year with England rugby like you get either Nike, Canterbury, it’s Umbro now, that come in and they go, “All right we’re going to do these custom shirts for you, different from the ones on the shop,” and then you get to the front rows and the front rows would go, “Can you just make a baggy fit– loose fit shirt,” because white isn’t flattering, and if you got 15 to 20% body fat which I probably did, white and tight was not good. You look at all the boys the ones that played on the front row they go around pulling the shirts down the whole time.
So, if England rugby can create a custom front row shirt, I’d be happy with that.
Favourite ThruDark products that you’ve worn and why?
Easily the Raid jacket. While I’m not climbing mountains, jumping out of planes and things like that, I live a rural lifestyle with my family. Constantly doing jobs, constantly getting muddy, constantly getting wet; the Raid jacket. It keeps you bone dry and it is versatile and you can just bang it in the washing machine.
Who has been your most influential teammate?
I’ve been blessed to play 14 years with some of the best and the worst in the world. Characters, not just the best players but good characters.
There was one guy, early on, a guy called Paul (Tupai). He’s my best mate, I grew up in New Zealand watching him play. Then, he signed for Northampton when I was 19. I ended up living three doors down from him. Every night, his family would have me around. I was always 18-19, I didn’t have a family, I was on my own. I’d eat at the table every night. There’s always somewhere to sleep, something to eat in the fridge, they just created a family environment for me. His young fella Connor (Tupai), he was six at the time. He’s now 20, playing professionally with Northampton. I’ve seen Connor grow up. (Photo credit: Paul Tupai Testimonial)
Staz, would Dylan pass selection?
[Staz] Do you know what? I think this is when we talked about, going back to what we originally spoke about. I often look at people and people obviously must think this works from the outside looking in. There’s nothing I would say special about myself, there isn’t. It’s just that constant application and training and being stubborn and running through that. I’d say you have all the characteristics to pass selection because you’ve been a professional sportsperson, you’ve applied yourself, you’ve motivated yourself, and you’re obviously physically robust, which is one of the main things. I would say, yes. The only shortfall would be whether or not you probably hack military kind of life and all that.
You can read more about Dylan’s story on our ambassador’s page; Dylan is a great friend of ThruDark’s and the co-founders.
Dylan’s book “The Hurt” is out in September 2020 – which you can pre-order from Amazon now.