For the second time in two weeks Stuart Lancaster found himself facing a very large decision due to a player's discipline. Once again Stuart has made the 'big call', the call that rules out Dylan Hartley of another major competition and that ends his home Rugby World Cup hopes. As the news broke there were some that felt that the decision is the wrong one, however my personal opinion is that this is the only feasible and appropriate course of action. This viewpoint is no reflection on Dylan's personal character, by all accounts he is well respected off the field and described as great bloke, however as we all are well aware this isn't the first disciplinary misdemeanour under Lancaster's watch. England's Head Coach has made the decision based on practicalities, dismay at his player's actions and the fact that this year is a year like no other. Naturally he was perturbed by last Saturday's incident;
'Very. Very disappointed because you invest a lot of time and effort in him and to get the team to a place where we can get to the World Cup in the best shape possible and obviously losing one of our most experienced players at this point is hugely disappointing, whichever way you look at it. I think from a practical point of view which is the first thing the risks that we would have taken by taking a suspended player into the first game and the risk of injury leading into that first game would have left us wide open. It was a risk that I wasn't prepared to take, so as soon as that ban was as it was the decision was made.
My decision wasn't purely on the four-week ban. It was on three areas: first, the fact as I said the Fiji game would leave us wide open and it is against tournament regulations, to be honest, to go into a World Cup with only two hookers that can play. Second, it's a huge risk to pick a player to go into a World Cup having not played any competitive rugby for what would be five months and third the decision-making. Can he make the good decisions under pressure in the big moments? You've got to trust that the players can do that. He's shown that there's an inconsistency there.'
No-one needs reminding that that this World Cup has been then most important date in England's diary since winning the bid to host in July 2009 and yes Hartley has a huge amount of International experience and yes when he is focused and not allowing his emotions to supercharge he delivers hugely to any side. I am not disputing those facts in any way, shape or form, however in my opinion the overarching practicalities that Stuart highlights regarding personnel numbers and indeed the risk of another 'overspill' of emotions during the greatest tournament of this side's life counteract such benefits. The strength in depth of English rugby is coming to the forefront and the confidence that Stuart highlights in the men now in the mix is genuine;
'The disappointment of losing someone like Dylan is balanced by the fact we have got a long time with the group of players we will have. We have an experienced front five now in the team - the likes of Dan Cole, Joe Marler, Geoff Parling, Joe Launchbury, Courtney etc - so there is a lot of experience to wrap around one or two players who have less experience. I wouldn't put Rob Webber in that category [less experienced] and certainly not Tom Youngs, who was a British and Irish Lions starting hooker. The likes of Luke Cowan-Dickie and Jamie George are in the inexperienced category. Having worked with Luke this week we can see huge potential in him and Jamie has done hugely well to hold down a starting place in the Saracens team ahead of Schalk Brits. He is clearly in good form but I back the coaches, particularly Graham Rowntree, to get the best out of these players. Simon Hardy is a crucial cog I the wheel as well, he is the guy who worked Steve Thompson in the 2003 World Cup and his work on throwing in at the lineout is huge.'
Practically it was yet another headache that Stuart could have done without and for his and indeed this England's sake we all hope that it is the last. Let's be clear these two incidents shouldn't set alarm bells ringing about England's culture, they are two isolated and unfortunate events. The ramifications of last Saturday will cut Dylan deeply for a home Rugby World Cup is something truly special, dare I say it even more so than a Lions tour and it is devastating.
From now onwards the focus switches to the fitness and ability of the four Hookers in the Training Squad; Tom Youngs, Rob Webber, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Jamie George and with three of the four in action this weekend fthe scrutinising starts now.