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.