With exactly 12 days to go before the start of the RBS 6 Nations Eddie Jones has announced Dylan Hartley as his captain for the tournament. The rumours that the Northampton Saint would be given the job started at the back end of last year and as a result this confirmation didn't surprise too many people however what it has done is to continue to fuel the debate of whether it is the right decision or not.
Eddie Jones has been very clear as to what he wants from his England captain and it starts with his captain being the first name on his team sheet. The captain will be the man to set the standards on the field and the one that is the 'conduit between the coaching staff and players'. England's new head coach has made it clear that this captaincy appointment will be for the duration of 6 Nations however you expect that if Dylan Hartley excels in the role then he will remain as captain for much longer than just 5 matches.
Naturally this appointment is one that divides and splits opinion, with passionate cries on both sides of the fence and that is due to the fairly long list of misdemeanours that Dylan Hartley has on his record. The offences include gauging, biting and punching however in the red rose of England he has a much cleaner bill of health. So, should these historic acts count against him? A large part of me says no, for if no-one was ever given a second chance then the world would be a tough place. Hartley has learned from his wrong doings and matured as a player and as an individual. However, there is still a small part of me that does struggle with England's captain having such a blemished history, is that fitting with the 'role model' aspect that comes with he job? Perhaps not.
Of course opponents are going to target England's new captain, why wouldn't they? Their ambition will be to switch on that 'red mist' and cause his temper to blow. Targeting a player with a feisty temperament isn't new in the world of sport and it will be up to England's hooker to manage his own emotions accordingly. If he does so then this choice from Eddie Jones could be an inspired one for Dylan Hartley, by his very nature, is a player that will give England a backbone, an edge and a steel.
Eddie Jones' opening comments about his captain were that he admires his 'aggressive and uncompromising approach to playing rugby'. Dylan is passionate and forthright, he is a man that opponents are wary of and what he must do is to take those around him to his level of competitiveness, physicality and edge.
Ugo Monye spoke recently on BBC 5Live about how the Australian team at the recent Rugby World Cup knew that they could push England around at their will. Indeed the Australian players felt that England were 'soft', they told him this in as many words and didn't fear England in the slightest. This is a stark contrast to the England of 2003 that Eddie Jones' Australia played against and something that needs to change and that starts now with Jones appointing Dylan Hartley as captain.
It is clear that England, and indeed Eddie Jones, are not here to be nice and they are not here to adhere to convention and do things by the book. Instead this is about winning and taking a nation with all of the resources in the world to the position that it should be in. This captaincy appointment, along with the squad shake-up, is one very experienced Australian coach putting his early stamp on England Rugby before a whistle has been blow or a ball has been kicked.
To some choosing Dylan Hartley as captain will appear crazy while to others it is inspired choice. Ultimately the opinion of those outside of England's camp matters little, instead it will be about how this England squad responds to their new captain and how their captain embraces the honour, and pressure, that has been bestowed on his shoulders.Suggest a correction