Ex­pect Jones to re­call Hart­ley as Eng­land’s cap­tain and hooker

Af­ter just 34 min­utes on pitch for Northamp­ton he showed that he still has what it takes to be at top

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Rugby Union - SIR IAN McGEECHAN

Ithink Ed­die Jones will have been ab­so­lutely de­lighted with what he saw from Dy­lan Hart­ley on Fri­day night – and what it means for his Eng­land team. There is no doubt he sees Hart­ley, when fully fit, as his leader. And think he is right to do so. Eng­land badly missed Hart­ley’s pres­ence on their sum­mer tour to South Africa.

In some sports I think the de­bate over team cap­taincy is a lit­tle over­hyped. In foot­ball, for in­stance, a cap­tain can ob­vi­ously lead by ex­am­ple on the pitch and try to set the tone in the dress­ing room.

But he is not in­vested with nearly the same re­spon­si­bil­ity, tac­ti­cal or emo­tional, as his rugby coun­ter­part. He is not the only man on the pitch al­lowed to con­verse with the ref­eree. He is not de­cid­ing whether to kick for the cor­ner or kick for goal. He is not try­ing to read the ref­eree’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the break­down, or tac­itly try­ing to in­flu­ence it.

The cap­taincy role in rugby is hugely im­por­tant. We talk about the need to have a “lead­er­ship group” in a rugby team, and that is right. You do need lead­ers all over the pitch; play­ers who can take re­spon­si­bil­ity for the dif­fer­ent ar­eas of the game and try to set the right tone.

But there is only one man who has that over­ar­ch­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity and it is no co­in­ci­dence that all the great teams in his­tory have had great cap­tains, from Wil­lie John McBride to Francois Pien­aar, from Martin John­son to Richie McCaw.

I’m not say­ing that Hart­ley is on that level, nec­es­sar­ily. He is not a gamechanger in his own right as a player as some of the above were. But as long as he is still pulling his weight on the pitch, he doesn’t need to be the best player.

The truth is, you look around this Eng­land team and it is not easy to say who else should take the arm­band.

Owen Far­rell is a game-changer and will surely be a great cap­tain in time. But he is still learn­ing, and I’m not sure it helps him to have that added re­spon­si­bil­ity now. He has enough de­ci­sions to make dur­ing a game as it is. Let him fo­cus on his per­for­mance.

Maro Itoje could de­velop into a leader but he is still cal­low. Joe Launch­bury is cap­tain of Wasps, but his place in the team is not as­sured. Chris Rob­shaw has ex­pe­ri­ence and could be a stop­gap, but like­wise, his place at No6 is not as­sured.

The ar­gu­ment against Hart­ley when he first took over the reins fol­low­ing Jones’s ap­point­ment was twofold.

First, it was felt by many that he prob­a­bly wasn’t go­ing to be the start­ing hooker for Eng­land at the World Cup in 2019. There­fore why waste time on him as cap­tain?

I don’t think that ar­gu­ment ap­plies any more.

No other hooker has made them­selves un­drop­pable in the past three years. Jamie Ge­orge is an ex­cel­lent player, but I don’t think he has done enough to per­suade Jones that he has to start him.

Hart­ley is still only 32 and, on the ev­i­dence of Fri­day night, he is fit. He made a no­tice­able im­pact in his 34 min­utes on the pitch. Not only did he score Northamp­ton’s try, but the scrum looked solid while he was on the pitch and he made good tac­ti­cal calls in terms of keep­ing the score­board tick­ing over. The line-out also looked far more solid in the sec­ond half.

Sec­ond, it was felt in 2015 that Hart­ley was too much of a loose can­non to be Eng­land cap­tain.

Again, I don’t think that ar­gu­ment stands scru­tiny any longer. He has barely put a foot wrong since as­sum­ing the cap­taincy.

He has a spik­i­ness that Jones likes and that his team-mates re­spond to. He is in­cred­i­bly com­pet­i­tive, as all the great cap­tains are. John­son and McCaw played on the edge. They learnt to tem­per their game to suit the oc­ca­sion, and I think the cap­taincy forced Hart­ley to do like­wise. Cer­tainly what you hear from the out­side is that the Eng­land play­ers see Hart­ley as a strong leader, not only on the pitch but off it. Some­one who is able to put their views across to the team man­age­ment and vice versa. He clearly has the re­spect of his team-mates. When you think that time spent off the field is 95 per cent of the to­tal time play­ers spend to­gether, this is re­ally where a strong team en­vi­ron­ment is es­tab­lished. This is when a good cap­tain comes into his own. Hav­ing the right man is mas­sively im­por­tant.

OK, Hart­ley is not Dane Coles. He is not go­ing to win you matches with his out­stand­ing han­dling or run­ning abil­ity. But he is no pas­sen­ger. If he con­tin­ues to play as he did on Fri­day, I would ex­pect Jones to bring him straight back in as his cap­tain and start­ing hooker.

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