In Depth

Captain Dylan Hartley ushers in new era for English rugby

New coach Eddie Jones nails his colours to the mast as he appoints bad-boy hooker to lead England in Six Nations

By Gavin Mortimer

If ever proof were needed that the disastrous Stuart Lancaster era has been consigned to history it was the announcement of Monday that England's new captain is Dylan Hartley.

The New Zealand-born hooker was axed from England's World Cup squad by Lancaster, one of many bad calls made by the former school teacher who was never able to shake off his educational approach even as coach of the national squad.

In his four years in charge of England Lancaster droned on about 'culture', 'identity' and 'pride in the jersey'. He was one for trite motivational phrases, ticking the right boxes and the like, and keeping one's nose clean at all times. As a result both Hartley and Manu Tuilagi, England's only game-breaking back, missed out on the World Cup for disciplinary reasons.

In Hartley's case it was a four week ban for headbutting that persuaded Lancaster to dispense with his services. It was another in a long line of punishments meted out to the 29-year-old, who despite his short fuse is far and away England's best hooker.

But Eddie Jones, Lancaster's successor, is a different beast altogether. The Australian is a man whose vast experience of international rugby has left him a sharp judge of character and he believes Hartley is the feisty leader England requires, as well as being the sort of man who will respond positively to the responsibility of captaincy.

He takes over from former skipper Chris Robshaw, a limited player who led England with dignity but not a lot of charisma.

Never mind that Hartley, as the Daily Mail spluttered, "has spent an astonishing 54 weeks of his career banned from playing rugby" for offences ranging from eye-gouing (a 26-week ban in 2007) to biting (eight weeks in 2012) to verbally abusing a referee (11 weeks in 2013).

Fortunately the words coming out of Hartley's mouth on Monday afternoon were effusive rather than abusive. "It is a huge honour to captain England and a very proud day for me and my family," he told reporters. "I'm really excited about the challenge ahead but in reality leading this squad of players will not fall just to me. It is essential for the success of this team that we quickly develop and establish a strong leadership group... there is a lot of young talent and potential which is great to see."

Hartley has less than two weeks to bed down as the new boss before England face the daunting challenge of a trip to Edinburgh to take on the Scots, the one Home Nations side to emerge with credit from last year's World Cup. "Our focus over the next two weeks is to work hard and prepare for the Scotland game," said Hartley. "Playing at Murrayfield will be a huge challenge and one we are all looking forward to."

Jones has made a bold move in appointing Hartley his captain, but it's a decision that has been met with general approval by the pundits. Former England prop turned ITV analyst David Flatman tweeted that it "was a great call", while England World Cup winner Iain Balshaw said it "is the right choice. Brings a bit of edge!"

Asked about that edge, and whether it was a gamble to go for Hartley, Jones replied: "The biggest risk if often not to take a risk. His bans are in the past, hopefully not in the future."

And, of course, as the Daily Telegraph helpfully pointed out, there is a plus side to the Hartley's long litany of misdemeanours. Namely that his legs "will be a little fresher than most thanks to the 54 weeks he's spent kicking his heels on the sidelines".

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