Hartley targets top seeding
Dylan Hartley believes England can secure a top seeding for the 2015 Rugby World Cup despite a tough run of fixtures over the next six months.
England head on their first-ever three-Test tour of South Africa on Wednesday and then tackle the Springboks, Australia, New Zealand and Fiji in a challenging QBE autumn international series.
Stuart Lancaster's men must defend their current ranking of fourth place if they are to guarantee avoiding the southern-hemisphere giants when the 2015 tournament draw is made on December 3.
Hartley believes that is realistic.
England made impressive strides under Lancaster during the Six Nations, finishing second with four victories out of five including memorable triumphs over France and Ireland.
The next stage in their development is taking major southern-hemisphere scalps.
"As a team we have a point to prove," Hartley said.
"We have said 'if we want to be the best, we have to beat the best'. We did it in Australia in 2010 and we have to do it in South Africa.
"We are going there to win these games. If we can get any result out there, it is a huge success for us for a young and growing team.
"The challenge of going out there to win is big enough and then it is about defending Twickenham.
"There are a lot of big games coming up and the seeding is the end goal. It is realistic.
"We can definitely win some of these big games."
England were not top seeds at the 2011 World Cup but were fortunate to draw Argentina rather than the All Blacks, Wallabies or Springboks.
Hartley wants England to avoid them in the pool stages of their home World Cup.
"The prospect of facing them is not nice is it?," he said.
England warmed up for their South African tour with a 57-26 victory over the Barbarians, scoring eight tries with Chris Ashton marking his return to form with a hat-trick.
Hartley also made the scoresheet in his first game since serving an eight-week biting ban and he was delighted with England's forward dominance.
But he admits England have plenty to work on before they tackle a physical Springbok side who will take England on in the tight exchanges much more effectively than the Barbarians.
England's defence was impressive during the Six Nations and they were also disappointed to concede four tries to the Barbarians.
"I thought the forwards were outstanding - we set the tone with a 20-metre driving maul from the kick-off which I really enjoyed," Hartley said.
"But the Barbarians are not really too interested in scrummaging and mauling and we have a lot of work to do on breakdown clear-outs.
"Our nines were getting snagged a bit so Graham Rowntree (forwards coach) will have us doing breakdown drills next week and working on our defence.
"It is difficult playing against them because they move the ball about a lot but in terms of set-piece defence, they shouldn't be scoring from first phase."
Hartley played the full 80 minutes and believes he will be physically ready for the first Test despite having been sidelined since the end of March for the biting incident with Ireland flanker Stephen Ferris.
"There was more running against the Barbarians than in a Test match and it was probably hotter than in South Africa," Hartley said.
"The intensity will go up on tour but the front row of John Smit, Neemia Tialata and John Afoa that we faced against the Barbarians was on a par with what South Africa will put out in terms of an international front row."
The England squad was reinforced on Monday by the arrival in camp of the 18 Harlequins and Leicester players who were in Premiership final action on Saturday.
Lancaster is still waiting to hear whether Leicester centre Manu Tuilagi will be cited for an illegal tackle on Danny Care in the second minute of the final.
The England medics will also get the chance to assess the fitness of Leicester fly-half Toby Flood, who has been struggling with an ankle injury but pulled out of the final with a tight groin.
England's only other injury concern ahead of their departure is Phil Dowson, who suffered a blow to the head against the Barbarians.