Lay off Dy­lan, he is just like Brear­ley!

ED­DIE’S BLAST AT CRIT­ICS OF CAP­TAIN HART­LEY...

Daily Mail - - Rugby Union - by CHRIS FOY Rugby Cor­re­spon­dent @FoyChris

ED­DIE JONES yes­ter­day com­pared Dy­lan Hart­ley to Ashes-win­ning for­mer Eng­land cricket cap­tain Mike Brear­ley — em­pha­sis­ing that his lead­er­ship pedi­gree will con­tinue to make him a val­ued as­set.

Just 24 hours af­ter Hart­ley lifted the RBS 6 Na­tions tro­phy in Dublin, de­spite a 13-9 de­feat at the hands of Ire­land, Lions head coach War­ren Gat­land cast doubt on his prospects of mak­ing the cut for the tour of New Zealand this sum­mer. The Kiwi also praised the im­pact of Eng­land’s re­serve hooker Jamie George.

How­ever, Jones pays no heed to the doubts ex­pressed in many quar­ters about Hart­ley. The Northampton player has made such a pos­i­tive im­pact as the fig­ure­head for the post-World Cup re­vival that re­ports of his im­mi­nent demise ap­pear pre­ma­ture.

Jones also made the com­par­i­son with Brear­ley, who was widely ac­claimed as a supreme skip­per, which jus­ti­fied his se­lec­tion in the face of mod­est play­ing feats.

‘ I’m not dis­cussing Lions se­lec­tion, but Dy­lan is an out­stand­ing cap­tain for us and does a su­per job,’ said Jones. ‘There’s no rea­son why he won’t con­tinue to do a su­per job.’

Hart­ley ( right) had a slow start to the cham- pi­o­nship, hav­ing served a sixweek ban in the build-up, be­fore rais­ing his game.

Asked if he be­comes frus­trated when Hart­ley’s play­ing at­tributes are ques­tioned, Jones added: ‘No. No. It’s like when Mike Brear­ley cap­tained the Eng­land cricket team; ev­ery­one ques­tioned him, then he won the Ashes and noone ques­tioned him.

‘I thought he was bet­ter than he was in Novem­ber and there’s no rea­son why, the next time he comes in, he can’t be bet­ter than he was this time. As long as he keeps im­prov­ing, he’s in the right di­rec­tion, like ev­ery other player.’

On this mat­ter, Jones is ut­terly res­o­lute and bullish. If any­thing, the louder the calls for George to be in­stalled as hooker long term, the more stri­dently the head coach de­fends Hart­ley. Jones also spoke yes­ter­day about the next phase of his World Cup mas­ter­plan, but that does not equate to a sud­den clearout of the older guard. Asked if those deemed to be un­likely to feature in the 2019 tour­na­ment should be re­moved now, he said: ‘It’s too early for that yet. There’s three projects in a World Cup; the first two years, the se­cond two years and the three months lead­ing into the Cup. We don’t have to make de­ci­sions on play­ers un­til at least the end of the first two-year project.’

Then came the fol­low-up ques­tion: ‘Do you see the team and cap­tain chang­ing by the end of the year?’ Jones re­turned fire, say­ing: ‘You ob­vi­ously do, I don’t. Look, one game doesn’t change our plan; we’ve got a plan in place so I know what we’ve got to do to be at our best for the World Cup and one game doesn’t af­fect our per­cep­tion of peo­ple, or the team.’

Jones claimed to have an out­line in his head of the squad he will take to Ar­gentina for the twoTest tour in June — al­though he can’t be pre­cise un­til he knows just how many English­men Gat­land will call up to the Lions. In the quest to es­tab­lish three can­di­dates in ev­ery po­si­tion, Jones of­fered a progress check.

‘We don’t have three tight­heads,’ he said. ‘We’ve got Dan Cole do­ing an ex­cep­tional job. If he gets in­jured, we’ve got Sinck­ler com­ing through, we want Paul Hill to come through and we want one more in that po­si­tion to come through. The rest of the front row is pretty good. Locks — we’re ex­cep­tional. We still need to re­vise the back row and see how we can im­prove it. Half backs — (scrum-halves) we need a third. We’re good for No 10s, we’re good for 12s, we’re good for 13s. Wings — we’re out­stand­ing. Full back — we’re still look­ing for op­tions.’

In that search for al­ter­na­tives to Mike Brown, Jones will weigh up try­ing El­liot Daly or An­thony Wat­son in the ab­sence of oth­ers.

Sum­ming up the cham­pi­onship, which led to an­other ti­tle but not an­other Slam, Jones con­ceded that Eng­land were some­times good and some­times ‘or­di­nary’. But his bold claim was that if Eng­land faced Ire­land an­other 10 times in Dublin — in the same con­di­tions and cir­cum­stances — they would win six.

He will shift fo­cus now to the Ar­gentina tour, while await­ing news about the pro­posed Novem­ber 4 game against New Zealand.

Asked if there a dan­ger of his side be­ing caught cold in the first Test of next sea­son, he said: ‘We will be well pre­pared. No ex­cuses.’

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