Hartley leads England's bid to rediscover old fear factor
"The biggest risk is not taking a risk," said Eddie Jones in confirming Dylan Hartley as England captain for the forthcoming Six Nations Championship.
It was a super-smart way of justifying his decision to replace the blameless, honest-to-goodness flanker Chris Robshaw with someone carrying just a little more baggage. Had the new red-rose coach tried to present his choice of skipper as a safe bet, he would have been laughed all the way back to his native Australia.
Jones has canvassed opinion from a range of people since moving to Twickenham before Christmas, and his overriding sense is that England have gone soft up front. He intends to harden them up without further ado, so while Hartley has more previous than a career criminal, the captaincy call has a basis in logic.
"We need to change England - we need to get back to what the world fears about them," Jones explained. "That comes down to the forward pack. When I was coaching Australia against them, we worried about their strong scrum, their strong driving maul, their uncompromising clean-out at the ruck.
"We felt if we could get parity there, we'd win the game. Dylan is experienced in international rugby, he plays in that way, he'll lead in that way and people will follow him."
And with Hartley sitting silently, no doubt pondering top-level sport's extraordinary habit of turning life on its head, Jones had a few words to say about the man who can no longer consider himself England captain. "Let's get one thing right," the coach said. "This is not about what Chris Robshaw didn't do as a leader. It's been a difficult time for him but he did a fantastic job for four years. He's disappointed, but I think the next part of his career will be the best part. He's easily the best blindside flanker in England and by the end of the Six Nations, I hope he'll be the best in Europe."
Even though Hartley was being written up as a captain-in-waiting as early as mid-December, he received nothing by way of confirmation until he arrived in camp on Sunday night. "I had the call to come down for a meeting," reported the 29-year-old, New Zealand-born front-rower. "I was a bit nervous. Eddie asked me if I wanted to do the job and held out his hand, which I think I snapped off. Chris also offered me his hand, congratulated me and said, 'If there's anything you need, I'm here for you'. That's testament to the bloke."
But Hartley at his best - and he will have to perform at somewhere near the optimum to hold off Jamie George of Saracens and Luke Cowan-Dickie of Exeter, he is the nearest thing England currently have to a world-class tight forward. (© Independent News Service)