Lay off Dylan, he is just like Brearley!
EDDIE’S BLAST AT CRITICS OF CAPTAIN HARTLEY...
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.’