Six Nations

Six Nations Championship 2016

Firebrand hooker Dylan Hartley tipped to be named new England skipper

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 January, 2016, 3:05pm
UPDATED : Monday, 25 January, 2016, 2:07pm

Controversial Northampton hooker Dylan Hartley is the frontrunner to succeed Chris Robshaw as England’s Six Nations captain with an announcement due on Monday, British media reported Friday.

Hartley, 29, is believed to be new head coach Eddie Jones’ first choice as captain.

Jones is due to announce the successor to Robshaw after speaking to senior players at the squad’s training base in Surrey, southern England.

Hartley said that he was only concentrating on holding down a place in the team, telling the BBC: “It’s a huge change. The thing for me is that I’ve had no previous experience. I’ve never met the bloke [Jones].

“For me it’s a totally new thing. I’m going in to impress, work hard and try to get into the team. Hopefully I’ll make some good new relationships there.”

There is no impediment [to Hartley as captain] as far as I am concerned. This is a call for Eddie and the coaching team
RFU chief Ian Ritchie

New Zealand-born Hartley will get a chance to prove his fitness in the Saints’ European Rugby Champions Cup clash with Scarlets on Saturday following a spell out with concussion and a rib injury.

He missed hosts England’s woeful Rugby World Cup campaign after former coach Stuart Lancaster dropped him from the squad when he was handed a four-week ban for head-butting Saracens' Jamie George while playing for Northampton.

It was the latest in a long line of misdemeanours by the forward who has missed two World Cups and a British & Irish Lions tour because of suspension and has been banned for more than a year in total since 2007.

Before the start of the World Cup last year, Lancaster said Hartley would likely never play international rugby again.

Despite Hartley’s chequered past Rugby Football Union chief executive Ian Ritchie on Friday threw his weight behind Jones' likely pick for captain.

“There is no impediment as far as I am concerned. This is a call for Eddie and the coaching team and there is nothing that would make you say: ‘No, don’t go down this route’,” Ritchie said.

“There is an element of balance and perspective, and if Eddie thinks Dylan first of all gets a place in the team, and secondly is the right captain, and he thinks that is the best thing to get a winning team you put it into that perspective.

“I don’t see it as a contradiction in what we have been trying to do and say about the values of the game,” Ritchie added.

Meanwhile, Jones confirmed that World Cup winner Jonny Wilkinson and former Australia flanker George Smith will perform informal unpaid coaching roles with England during the Six Nations.Wilkinson will offer kicking guidance, while Smith, the test centurion and specialist open-side, will provide advice on the breakdown to England’s back row.

“With both of them it’s a very informal relationship. They will come in and help the players at various times,” said Jones, who gave Smith his first cap in 2000 when he was acting as Wallabies coach.

“George will definitely come in next Wednesday to help the back-rowers. But it’s very informal. He’s not a coach as such, he’s doing it out of friendship.

“He’s one of the best defence breakdown forwards in the world. He will help our aspiring number sevens. George takes the breakdown work very seriously. He has done a lot of work on skill development at the breakdown.

“George is a lovely guy. I’ll have to buy him a few beers further down the track, though. He’s not getting paid for it, definitely not. I’ll buy Jonny a sparkling mineral water.”

Jones has so far recruited Steve Borthwick and Paul Gustard as his assistants, but expects his backroom staff to be completed in time for the June tour of Australia.

Reporting by Agence France-Presse and Reuters