Northampton director of rugby Jim Mallinder hailed the “magnificent” performance of captain Dylan Hartley as the hooker led the Saints to a 38-11 win over Exeter in their opening English Premiership fixture of the new season on Saturday.
England hooker Hartley missed all of Northampton’s pre-season fixtures after receiving an 11-week ban for verbally abusing referee Wayne Barnes during last term’s Premiership final defeat by Leicester.
It was not the first time Hartley had been in disciplinary trouble, but he put those problems to one side on Saturday, scoring the first of Northampton’s five tries after just two minutes.
“I thought he was magnificent today,” Mallinder said of Hartley. “Dylan put in a determined performance today. There has been a lot of talk about him after what happened, but all he can do is play and show what he can do on the field.”
“He has worked very hard during the summer, he has had no pre-season games, so to come in and play like that shows what sort of player he is. He is our leader because he plays and leads by example,” he said.
In the London double-header at Twickenham, Harlequins edged Wasps 16-15 after Wasps’ Andy Goode saw the final kick of the match, a potentially match-winning conversion come back off the post.
In the other half of the double-header, Saracens overpowered London Irish 42-20, while Sale who — won just seven out of 22 league games last season — started the new campaign with a surprise 22-16 victory at Gloucester.