Ex-Crow is to lead out his country
WHEN Dylan Hartley leads England out for the first time in Port Nelson tomorrow (Saturday) against South Africa one corner of Sussex will be cheering particularly proudly.
The 26-year-old hooker was born in New Zealand but a chance encounter led to Hartley swapping Rotorua for Crowborough and the rest is history according to the man who made it possible.
Dave Pass, head coach of Crowborough RFC's Colts side, is delighted to see Hartley captain England after bringing him across the globe in 2002.
"My son was touring New Zealand with Sussex and he happened to meet Dylan," said Pass, who is also the rugby academy senior coach at Beacon. "It turned out his mother was English but he also had an auntie who lived on Crowborough Hill and he wanted to move over, but didn't know how to go about it.
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"We helped to get him enrolled at Beacon Community College, where I also teach, and got him playing for Crowborough Colts."
Hartley was not big for his age at 16 and felt he had a better chance of playing international rugby for England, but it was obvious from the start he had real talent and was a bit quirky.
Pass said: "He used to walk to school in shorts and flip-flops even in the snow, and he always had a rugby ball in his hands and lived for rugby.
"Dylan progressed through the county side, then London and South East before representing England U16 and ultimately going to Worcester's academy."
Hartley, who also captains Northampton Saints, has since amassed 41 caps for his adopted country and Pass said his old school were excited to see an old boy skippering England.
He said: "It's absolutely superb news. The school is incredibly proud of him and we are going to see if we can get his shirt from the match to show to the ordinary kids here that if you have the desire you can reach that level.
"He still has lots of links in Crowborough and has been back to the school three times. The kids were chuffed to bits and hugely inspired by him."
Crowborough Colts' Assistant Coach, Graham Callard, whose brother is ex-England full back Jon said the whole town will be boosted by Hartley's success.
He said: "Dylan getting the captaincy is excellent news for the club and excellent news for the town.
"He was the obvious choice in this situation as there was no one else in the England squad with the ability to do it.
"Dylan is a really nice guy and is potentially a permanent England captain of the future after doing such an excellent job at Northampton."
Hartley has donated some of his shirts to Crowborough RFC and they are proudly displayed in the clubhouse, although one particularly sticks out for Pass.
He said: "We have the shirt he wore against Scotland U16 and it still has Scottish mud and blood on it as we wouldn't let anyone clean it."
Hopefully the club will soon have a new shirt to put on their walls after a glorious England victory in the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium this weekend.