Hartley in the Right Place?


I’ll be honest. I’m in a quandary about Dylan Hartley’s appointment as England rugby captain. It’s a risk. It’s a bloody risk. I would’ve chosen Joe Launchbury. But having criticised Stuart Lancaster’s penchant for the disciplined and the vanilla, I find it hard to criticise Eddy Jones for his willingness to make controversial decisions that might ruffle feathers.

I suppose Jones was on a hiding to nothing whoever he picked. There were no perfect candidates. Maro Itoje is too young; Tom Wood (who had been mentioned as a possible captain in the past) didn’t make Jones’ squad; and Launchbury’s passive demeanour was never going to be the Australian’s style. So who did that leave? Chris Robshaw? No thanks.

Basically, Hartley has got the job via a process of elimination. He ticks all the boxes except one: discipline. Although Lancaster and many rugby fans might believe Hartley’s abysmal disciplinary record should’ve eliminated him from contention, Eddie Jones obviously disagrees. At least the non-saintly Northampton Saint is a strong man who’s up for a challenge and won’t be fazed.

Although some might argue that Jamie George is the form hooker in the Premiership this season (and not Hartley) not too many players are guaranteed places in England’s starting XI. Even Launchbury could find his place under threat from Lawes and Itoje in the long term. Consequently, I have no qualms about Hartley being an automatic pick. With Tom Young’s form falling off a cliff, Hartley is the only hooker available of proven international quality. I quite like the idea of a hooker being captain too.

However, although I see the logic in Jones’ decision I don’t feel entirely comfortable with it. After all, there’s no escaping the following list of Hartley’s indiscretions:

2007 Suspended six months for eye-gouging

2011 Dwarf tossing incident with other players

2012 Suspended 8 weeks for biting

2012 Suspended for punching

2013 Calls referee Wayne Barnes ‘a cheat’

2014 Suspended for elbowing

2015 Banned for headbutting

But hey, at least he didn’t jump into the crowd and kung-fu kick someone, right?!

Although I found Lancaster’s preference for purity and military style discipline a little nauseating in the end, one cannot deny that the position of England captain comes with responsibilities. The captain is a role model. Has Hartley been a good role model in the past? Absolutely not. Can he be one in the future? There must be doubts. Although he stayed out of trouble on the field between 2007 and 2012, his track record indicates that opponents find waysto get under his skin.

So is Hartley the right choice? I have no idea. Only time will tell. I just hope that a man chosen for his strong personality, and his strong play, doesn’t turn out to be a weakness. Chris Robshaw might’ve looked like a guppy fish at feeding time after England’s defeats, but at least he stayed on the pitch for eighty minutes.

James Morgan


  1. I think you have summed it up well James.

    Jones needed to stamp his mark in the squad, changing the captain is a clear way of doing this.

    Hartley hasn’t let England down. As you note, other credible options were at best limited.

    Hartley has served his time, and those close to him any speak highly enough.

    SL not selecting him for a trivial misdemeanour was a big mistake (yes I said it at the time too). There was a very limited risk during the RWC as his experience and quality more than made up for lack of game time.

    I for one will be right behind him and the team.

    • Definitely mate! I’m looking forward to seeing how the team shapes up. Maybe Hartley will thrive under the pressure? Basically we don’t know, but he hasn’t been chosen as captain forever. If he turns out to be the wrong man then Jones will make a change. Martin Johnson’s disciplinary record wasn’t prefect at the time he was made captain.

  2. Paterson's Boot on

    Brave decision from Jones, but as you say, you can hardly complain having criticised the previous regime for bland conformity and media platitudes. I get very frustrated with this obsession with sportsmen and women as “role models” – in my view they should only be so if they make themselves out to be.

    Eric Cantona is actually not a bad precedent – he had a list of indiscretions as long as your arm, but ended up being a good captain of United and a leader and father figure to the Class of ’92 as they broke into the first team.

  3. It’s a risk. It’s a bloody risk.

    Which is why, even if it should prove a failure, it should still be seen as the right decision.
    The aversion to risk has condemned England to irrelevance for some time now. Accepting that risks are a necessary part of the game – and won’t always come off – is essential.

    Eliminate risks, and you eliminate rewards also.

  4. This will undoubtedly be judged in retrospect, purely based on whether it works or not. Probably the right time to give him a shot though, post WC at a 6n.

    To me I’m pessimistic as there have just been too many incidents; I can see parallels with Rooney (who I think has turned out to be a very good England captain) but I think the latter didn’t have such an extreme track record as Hartley. Hartley is going to be a target for the opposition and he needs to sink or swim from the off.

    I will certainly watch with interest…

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