Eddie Jones backs Dylan Hartley as England captain

‘There’s no reason why he won’t be starting hooker and captain,’ in Six Nations campaign

England head coach Eddie Jones has backed Dylan Hartley to captain England in their Six Nations campaign. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

England head coach Eddie Jones has backed Dylan Hartley to captain England in their Six Nations campaign. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

 

With the Six Nations Championship just a month away England are in danger of kicking off the tournament lacking more than half their starting pack. Eddie Jones, the England head coach, has confirmed Wasps’ Joe Launchbury will miss the start of the championship with the Vunipola brothers, Chris Robshaw and George Kruis also at risk of missing the opening fixture against France on February 4th.

Given the suspended Dylan Hartley will be seriously short of match practice before the France game at Twickenham, Jones may yet have to oversee a major forward reshuffle, particularly if Robshaw and Kruis are absent. Robshaw has aggravated a shoulder joint injury, Kruis is recovering from a fractured cheekbone and Launchbury has a strained calf. With James Haskell still awaiting his Premiership comeback, only Dan Cole and Maro Itoje from Jones’s series-winning pack in Australia last summer are injury-free.

England are fortunate to have plenty of depth in most positions but should Cole or Itoje pick up a knock this month the pool of England forward talent really will be tested. “People say relax and enjoy the job,” said Jones, who has been presiding over a twoday squad gathering in Brighton. “You never relax. Every day you wake up you’re hoping someone else doesn’t get injured.”

Typically, though, Jones is busily making contingency plans. He is keen to try Itoje in the back row in the not too distant future and will also have no qualms about rushing Hartley back into his team if the Northampton hooker proves his fitness during England’s pre-Six Nations training camp in Portugal.

“He’s got to come in to Portugal fit and ready to go,” Jones said of Hartley. “He’s doing all the right things at the moment and, if he keeps on doing that, there’s no reason why he won’t be starting hooker and captain. He is on a stringent fitness programme now ... he ate turkey and broccoli for Christmas dinner! He’s got to train bloody hard ... if he does, he’s going to put himself in a great position to be in the 23. If he’s in the 23, he’ll be captain.”

With so much other uncertainty swishing around there are obvious reasons why Jones would prefer Hartley to lead his team out against France, regardless of the fact his senior hooker will have played just 128 minutes of Premiership rugby in 2016-17 by the end of January.

Saracens, at least, remain optimistic that Kruis will be fit in February but the outcome of a scan on Robshaw’s shoulder problem has yet to be disclosed. “Chris is a massive ‘glue’ player who does the unseen work,” said Jones, fresh from a seasonal break in his native Australia. “He is a really strong, consistent player and is a massive leader for us in an informal sense.”

Whoever plays, the squad have already been warned that easing gently into the Six Nations Championship is not an option. Jones has seen what has happened to Leicester City, English football’s dominant side in 2016, and does not want to see a similar decline from a team who finished last year with a 100% Test record.

“We addressed it at the first meeting,” Jones said. “We went through the example of what’s happened to Leicester and do we want that to happen to us? We’ve come up with some strategies we believe will help us overcome any complacency and keep pushing forward.

“You don’t defend a Grand Slam, you’ve got to win it again. That’s why we’ve got to be absolutely daring going into this Six Nations. We want to be a side that has the courage to play our sort of rugby from the very first game of the tournament. We want to create more attacking threats and be more creative. How we’re going to do that is going to be ‘The England Way’. We’ll get better at how we do it.”

Jones has also emphasised the revised tackle laws to his players, with sanctions for high ‘hits’ set to increase from this week onwards: “There is going to be a period where red and yellow are going to be very popular colours and you’ve just got to be able to cope with that.”

(Guardian service)

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