Wednesday 18 September 2019

Ex-Lions coach backs fiery Dylan Hartley as new England captain

Dylan Hartley was hit with a three week ban after being sent off for elbowing Leicester centre Matt Smith in Northampton's 23-19 Premiership victory on December 20
Dylan Hartley was hit with a three week ban after being sent off for elbowing Leicester centre Matt Smith in Northampton's 23-19 Premiership victory on December 20

Tom Rooney

Ian McGeechan believes recently-appointed England coach Eddie Jones should make the irascible Dylan Hartley his new captain.

Over the course of his career, Northampton hooker and skipper Hartley has consistently found himself in front of disciplinary committees and has served six suspensions for a variety of indiscretions.

Hartley was handed an eight week ban for biting Ireland’s Stephen Ferris in a 2012 Six Nations game and, later that year, was suspended for a further two weeks after punching Rory Best of Ulster during a Heineken Cup tie.

His worst infractions are for eye gouging Wasps’ players Johnny O’Connor and James Haskell in 2007, for which he was suspended for 16 weeks and, in 2013, the verbal abuse of a match official in the Premiership final; an 11 week ban followed that would cost him his place on that summers' Lions tour of Australia.

Yet, McGeehan, who guided the Lions to a test series victory over South Africa in 1997, reckons the 29-year-old’s forceful demeanour is just what the English set up needs following a lack lustre World Cup showing.

Presumably, that is, Jones opts to relieve Chris Robshaw of his captaincy. In his column in the Daily Telegraph, ‘Geech’ claimed that Hartley has an impressive mind for the game.

“Whenever I have spoken to Hartley, I have found that you can have a very good rugby conversation with him. He seems to me that he has a good rugby brain, and I think he could form a really good rapport with Jones because it is so important that the coach and captain have a close and special relationship.”

“It is going to be one of Eddie Jones’ biggest decisions, and I do not think that he needs to make it immediately- he can easily wait until the week of his first match against Scotland in February, because he needs to get to know the players and to get a feel for the dynamics of the group – but for me, were I coach, Dylan Hartley is the player I would go for.”

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Hartley had his issues with the Stuart Lancaster, the previous coach and, last May, he was dropped from the England training squad and was ultimately omitted from their World Cup squad, with Saracens’ Jamie George getting the nod. Hartley won the last of his 66 England caps on the final day of this year’s Six Nations against France.

“For a start he merits a place in the side- and I hope his current concussion problems are not lasting- because England missed him at hooker in the Rugby World Cup. He could have made a real difference in that tournament,” wrote McGeechan.

“This situation needs a strong personality and character to lead England. And Hartley is that man. He has been captain of Northampton. It is not as if it is a new role for him

“Yes, there is an element of the gamble about it because of Hartley’s disciplinary record, but that is where you back yourself as a coach. You have to give Hartley a very clear understanding of what you expect from him. Yellow cards simply cannot be a part of it."

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