Dylan Hartley: Northampton Saints hooker 'coming of age'
Northampton Saints captain Dylan Hartley has said he may be about to reach his prime as a hooker.
After being sent off in last season's Premiership play-off final defeat, the 27-year-old retained the Saints captaincy and played in all three of England's autumn internationals.
"I think I'm coming of age. I heard a hooker's prime is 29, 30 years old," he told BBC Radio Northampton.
"I'm enjoying it. I like my role at the club and I love being captain."
Hartley now has 50 caps for England and has added seven appearances to his Saints tally this season, taking him to 178, for a side that are second in the Premiership, two points behind leaders Saracens.
"I love being part of a good group of people," he said. "It's a group striving to win trophies and turn up every day and train hard.
"Certainly in the England setup it's very much a mirror image of what we've got here."
This time last year Northampton were in the middle of a run of five defeats in seven games.
They recovered to reach the play-off final and were eventually edged out by Leicester in the Twickenham showpiece.
"This time last year we lost a lot of games. The squad wasn't as united as we are now but we still made a Premiership final," said Hartley.
"This year we have the right talent, the right coaching setup. Everything's perfect. So there's no excuses for us not to perform."