Friday 20 September 2019

Jones opts for joint captains after axing Hartley

England head coach Eddie Jones. Photo: Getty Images
England head coach Eddie Jones. Photo: Getty Images

Jack de Menezes

Dylan Hartley will remain England captain for the Six Nations despite being dropped from the side that will take on Samoa tomorrow - as long as he avoids any more ill-discipline.

Head coach Eddie Jones has decided that the time is right to hand Jamie George his first England start - despite becoming the British and Irish Lions' first-choice hooker in the summer - which will end his world record streak of 19 consecutive Test appearances without a start.

But that means dropping Hartley, and at 31 years old, it will come as a firm reminder that his place in the England side is not granted.

Hartley's disciplinary record has tainted his career to date, having served 60 weeks' worth of suspensions since his professional debut in 2005, but while his last ban came just under a year ago, he has never fallen foul while playing for Jones.

Jones has kept Hartley sharp since taking the job by reminding him that his place - let alone the captaincy - is not a given, but the Australian has struck a different chord in recent weeks by heavily praising the Northampton Saints skipper, and Jones confirmed ahead of the Samoa clash that Hartley will remain captain for the Six Nations as long as he keeps the red mist at bay.

"He's a great captain, Dylan," said Jones. "But like anyone else he is under pressure to perform. Jamie has got an opportunity this week but Dylan is a fantastic captain and certainly at this stage, there is no reason why he won't be captain for the Six Nations.

"There's no decision on the World Cup. The only decision we've made is that, all things being equal, and he doesn't have one of those mystical experiences at Franklin's Gardens, that he'll be captain for the Six Nations. As long as that mist doesn't come in over Franklin's Gardens."

By making nine changes to his side and handing the captaincy to both Chris Robshaw and George Ford in a shared role, Jones has left Hartley out of his starting XV for the first time under his reign, with the last time that the hooker failed to start an England game that he was available for coming back in November 2014, ironically also against Samoa.

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Hartley's omission means a chance, finally, to start for Saracens No 2 George. Despite winning back-to-back Champions Cups, three Premiership titles and starting all three Tests for the Lions against the All Blacks, George has played second fiddle to Hartley despite calls for him to be promoted earlier.

Having been brought on in 17 of Jones' games in charge, the head coach now wants to see how George copes playing as a starter where there will be a much greater scrutiny on his scrummaging and lineout throwing, as opposed to his ability as an impact sub.

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