Eye-gouging, biting, head-butts... Is Dylan Hartley really the right man to captain England?
Eddie Jones is expected to name Dylan Hartley the next England captain, but it would be controversial choice given hooker's history of getting into trouble
Published 22/01/2016 | 14:40
After months of speculation, the England captain is finally due to be named on Monday. Plenty of names have been suggested - including previous incumbent Chris Robshaw, Joe Launchbury, Mike Brown, Ben Youngs, Maro Itoje. However, the player widely viewed as the favourite for the role is Dylan Hartley.
But why? There are doubts over his fitness. There are long-standing question marks over his discipline.
In one of Eddie Jones's earliest press conferences, he stated that "your captain's got to be your best player". The thing is, Hartley is not even the best player at Northampton. He is not even the best hooker at Northampton for that matter. Ask any Saints fans and they will say Mike Haywood is number one No 2.
Jones is known for wanting his captain to possess what he refers to as "a bit of mongrel". A nasty streak when needed. And hooker is a position that breeds leaders. Sean Fitzpatrick was one of the most admired captains, a rallying point, the heartbeat and conscience of the All Blacks in the Nineties. John Smit fulfilled the same role for the World Cup-winning Springboks in 2007.
Captaincy is about character as much as aptitude. Jones senses something that appeals in Hartley, his spikiness, his edge, his physical stature. And yet Jones cannot yet have any real idea as to how their relationship will work out. And whether Hartley can be trusted.
"He needs to set standards for the team in terms of how we operate off the field and how we operate on the field," said Jones.
Those standards will be placed under intense scrutiny if Hartley gets the gig, as his rap-sheet proves:
The first of Hartley's suspensions, and by far the biggest. He picked up a massive 26-week ban (that's six-and-a-half months!) for eye-gouging James Haskell and Johnny O'Connor during a Premiership match in 2007. It saw the then 21-year-old miss out on a place in England's World Cup squad. He was also found not guilty of a third gouge, on Joe Worsley, in the same match. The disciplinary panel had initially decided that 30 weeks was an appropriate punishment but reduced it to 26 "after taking into account his good character, youth and inexperience".
Night out with dwarves
In 2011, during the World Cup in New Zealand, Hartley may not have been hit with any suspensions but he still made the headlines for all the wrong reasons. First he was also one of the many England players who were disciplined for their off-field behaviour, receiving plenty of negative publicity for being part of a group of players that visited a Queenstown bar called Altitude, where there just happened to be a 'Dwarf Throwing Contest' taking place.
False sexual harrassment claim
During the same tournament, hotel worker Annabel Newton made a series of serious allegations against Hartley, James Haskell and Chris Ashton following a visit to Hartley's room, the day before England's opening World Cup match against Argentina. Newton went to the room at the instruction of England captain Lewis Moody to retrieve a hotel walkie-talkie.
England's players had for several days been playfully 'borrowing' the hotel's walkie-talkies. Newton alleged that while in the room she was subjected to serious sexual harassment. Fortunately, Hartley filmed her entire visit on a camera belonging to Haskell, and the transcript of that video led an RFU hearing to conclude Newton's allegation was "entirely false".
Biting Stephen Ferris
After such a hefty ban in 2007, Hartley was remarkably well behaved on the pitch for almost five years, before two bans in 2012 had people questioning his temperament once again. The first ban was an eight-week suspension at the end of the 2012 Six Nations when he was found guilty of biting Ireland's Stephen Ferris - although one does wonder what Ferris was doing sticking his fingers in Hartley's mouth. Just four days into being suspended, former England forwards coach Graham Rowntree tipped him as a future England captain.
In December 2012, Hartley was suspended again... and again it was for a run-in with an Irish player. In a clash between Northampton and Ulster, frustration got the better of Hartley as he threw several punches - and an elbow - at rival hooker Rory Best. He was cited and suspended for two weeks.
Calling the ref a "f***ing cheat"
When 2013 arrived, all everyone in rugby circles was talking about was the Lions tour to Australia. And the Saints hooker was being tipped as a sure-fire pick. However, the curse of Hartley struck again and his third suspension in just over a year caused him to miss out on the biggest tour of his career. What did he do? He called referee Wayne Barnes "a f***ing cheat".
Hartley claimed he was talking to Tigers hooker Tom Youngs, and not Barnes, but he was still suspended for 11 weeks. As it turns out, he had already been warned by Barnes for the way he was speaking to the official and calling him a "cheat" was the final straw. Ironically, Ireland hooker Best was the beneficiary of Hartley's ban after being called up by Warren Gatland as the replacement.
Missing out on representing the Lions was a real eye-opener for Hartley and a good 18 months passed by without incident since "cheatgate". Once again people were beginning to ask whether Hartley had turned a corner. Once again they were left with egg on face! Just before Christmas 2014, Hartley was again in the dock, this time after a swinging an elbow at Leicester's Matt Smith.
So far, Hartley's indescretions had seen him miss out on a World Cup and a Lions tour but, what with them being every four years, he had another opportunity to play in rugby's showpiece event last year. And again shot himself in the foot! He was banned for four weeks for a headbutt on Saracens' Jamie George in the Premiership semi-final. The ban would have seen the Northampton hooker miss England's World Cup opener against Fiji. Stuart Lancaster decided an example had to be made and didn't include him on his RWC squad at all.
Hartley's history of falling foul of rugby's lawmen does not make for pleasant reading. Yes, there are defences to be made for Hartley in all incidents, but how many times can one guy be that 'unlucky'?