Northampton Saints hooker Dylan Hartley is targeting a place in the Aviva Premiership Rugby top six this season and is positive his side have the quality to achieve their goal.
Saints suffered a last-gasp defeat at Wasps last weekend with a Matt Mullan try and Jimmy Gopperth’s conversion stealing a 32-30 victory for the hosts.
Despite the defeat, Saints remain level on points with sixth-placed Harlequins and are just five points behind fourth-placed Leicester Tigers with three games left to play.
Another huge back-row match up with Saracens coming at MK on Sunday, don’t miss it!
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And Hartley, who captained England to a second successive RBS 6 Nations triumph last month, is determined to help his side qualify for next season’s European Champions Cup.
“The good thing is we have got a huge carrot dangling in front of us, we have got three games left in the season and, at the moment, a top-six finish is a priority for us,” he said.
“We have got all to play for and it’s a good place to be. If we were further down the table, we could just clock off but this is a good place to be, it keeps it competitive and it keeps us working for something.
“It might not be a top-two finish like we would have liked at the start of the year, but we have got something to drive for and that’s top six at the moment.”
Saints host Saracens at stadiummk on Sunday with victory essential to keep them in the hunt for European rugby, but Hartley concedes that their opponents will be a tough test.
And after the defeat to Wasps and another late loss to Tigers in Round 18 – thanks to two closing stages penalties from Owen Williams – the 31-year-old has called on his team to iron out the problems they have had in recent weeks.
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He said: “I think it’s the tale of our season, not quite taking games when they’re on offer.
“There [are] some underlying issues there of what needs to be rectified and corrected for us to improve as a team, because you can’t ship four tries every game.
“I think we are getting better. It’s funny, because one week we are focused on one thing and we do that pretty well, and then a different area of the game we clock off at and we ship in a few tries like we did at the weekend, and that’s disappointing.”
Saracens are currently third in the Aviva Premiership Rugby table and are reigning champions, and Hartley knows Saints will have to work hard to win.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for the Saracens team,” he added.
“A lot of them are international teammates and I see how hard those guys work and how diligent they are when with England and I’m sure they’re no different at their clubs, so I am fully respectful of them and their team and the challenge that they pose.
“They’re reigning champions and at a good place in European rugby as well, so they’re one of the best teams.
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“They’re a very good side, very structured; they know what they’re doing. How do we combat that? We’ve got to be physical with them to start.
“Scrum time, they look to work penalties from that. They love to maul, so they’re trying to get that physical dominance into their game.
“It’s a bit like ourselves, when we get that right, results seem to go our way, so first and foremost this weekend I think physicality is something we need to hang our hat on.”
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