While the prospect of promoting the serial offender to England skipper has not met with universal approval, Exeter Chiefs director of rugby Rob Baxter says the 29-year-old Hartley is a thoroughly viable candidate.
‘If Eddie Jones is comfortable he can manage Dylan Hartley and bring the best out of him I haven’t got an issue with that,’ said Baxter. ‘Every coach has to run with the captain they personally feel comfortable with. Whatever reasons those are. He obviously feels comfortable with Dylan.’
The Northampton hooker has a grim disciplinary record which includes a three-week ban for butting at the end of last season that saw him miss the World Cup.
But Baxter countered: ‘Dylan has not got a bad disciplinary record with England. He was probably a bit unfortunate because that incident was an on-field incident with Northampton.
‘It’s not as if he’s been out on a Friday night and beaten up a granny. It was an on-field thing and the truth is with a lot of players — particularly guys who play their best when they are right on the edge — you are going to get the odd issue now and again. It’s about whether you feel confident enough as a coach to manage through that scenario. If he does, then fantastic. I haven’t got a problem with that at all.’
While Jones has made no public comment on Chris Robshaw’s future as skipper, other than to say the pair have met for coffee, it appears likely he will turn to Hartley in a bid to add a spikier edge to England’s Six Nations assault.
Baxter gives short shrift to the suggestion that England’s pack has developed a soft underbelly in recent years, but he does believe Jones’ players need to be given the freedom he affords his own Exeter team to play what they see in front of them.
‘It’s a bit odd to say the England forwards Stuart Lancaster selected haven’t had a hard edge and a bit of spark and character about them because I think they have,’ said Baxter, who said he had no knowledge of any move to bring his highly-rated attack coach Ali Hepher into the England fold.
‘Guys like Joe Marler, Tom Youngs are big physical tough guys. Courtney Lawes maybe hasn’t expressed it for England in the last year or two but when he is on fire for Northampton he’s probably one of the scariest defenders in the world.
‘When Billy Vunipola is flying around you can’t say he is not a tough guy to handle. I don’t think it’s right to say “pick an edgier, nastier pack”.
‘Is it for Eddie to give them a bit more of a free rein to go out and express themselves? Well potentially. Maybe that’s more the issue. It’s about the mind-set they want to go in with as much as the selection of individual players.’ – Daily Mail
Original source: Hartley could be perfect for England