Banned England captain Dylan Hartley must pass special fitness test or face Six Nations axe
Dylan Hartley must pass a gruelling “Test simulation” conditioning test in Northampton on Wednesday to prove he is fit to captain England for the Six Nations opener against France.
Hartley is currently serving a six-week ban for striking Leinster flanker Sean O’Brien, after coming off the bench during the second half of Northampton’s Champions Cup defeat on December 9, and will not play again for his club before the French game at Twickenham on Feb 4.
His latest ban, which takes his career total to 60 weeks, will ensure that the Northampton hooker will have played just six minutes of competitive rugby, since England’s victory over Australia at Twickenham on December 3, before the start of the Six Nations.
Hartley has continued to work on his conditioning despite missing a total of six matches for Northampton during his suspension, which expires on January 23.
But the 30 year-old must now prove to England head coach Eddie Jones that his fitness is up to Test-match intensity by undergoing a specially-devised match simulation that will involve running at 120 metres per minute for 36 minutes – the average length of time that the ball is in play in international games.
Hartley will undergo the test, which will use state-of-the-art GPS technology, under the supervision of one of England’s coaching team and Jones is expected to name his captain for the Six Nations once he has received the data.
“Dylan has a game simulation on Wednesday, so we’ll have a pretty good idea how he’s shaping up then,” said Jones.
“That means he does a session that’s the equivalent of a game. A Test game of rugby is approximately 36 minutes of ball in play. You have to run around 120 metres per minute, that’s the average speed. He’s got to be able to do a session of that quality and if he can do a session of that quality he can do a game.
“It’s just him doing the session by himself. It’s old school, run hard, get up, get off the ground, run again. We’ve got all the GPS that measures everything.
“We’ll decide on Wednesday one minute after he’s done the session because we’re going to name the squad on Friday. We’ve got the Six Nations launch next Wednesday so we need to name it then.
“I’m anticipating him to go well because all his training parameters are good so far. It’s like having a racehorse that does trials – if they run fast in the trials there’s a good chance they’re going to run fast in the race.”
Jones said Hartley’s latest indiscretion did not necessarily mean he could not afford any more disciplinary problems to retain the captaincy if he does prove his fitness.
“In 12 months he’s had one bad incident, that’s all I’m looking at,” Jones added. “We’ve got a number of players in those 12 months who’ve had one bad incident.
“The context is irrelevant to my situation, cos I’ve only known him from when I’ve put him on as captain to now. He’s had one bad incident and everyone’s entitled to one bad incident.
“If we were to look at each bad player with one bad incident and rule him out, we wouldn’t have many players left.”
Jones revealed that Harlequins prop Joe Marler could yet be fit for the game against France despite suffering a broken leg against Worcester on New Year’s Day.
George Kruis, the Saracens lock, may now not be fit for the Six Nations opener as the rehabilitation from his cheekbone injury is taking longer than expected.
“He (Marler) might be all right for the France game, you never know,” Jones added. “He’s down at Brighton, they have good sea down there so the recuperation can be quicker.
And Kruis? “It’s just the way the cheekbone is. You can have a broken cheekbone and play the next day or you can have an operation and it be three or four weeks. It’s just how they mend. We’re just guided by the medical staff in consultation with Saracens.”