Dylan Hartley's relationship with Eddie Jones is just how it should be... but he needs to start playing full matches for Northampton to hang on to captaincy
- Dylan Hartley needs to start delivering as a player to keep the England captaincy
- Hartley's form has dropped at Northampton and he isn't even playing full games
- His relationship with England coach Eddie Jones works - as their record testifies
- The Hooker has to play 80 minutes in England's Six Nations opener against Italy
- If he can't do that then logic says Owen Farrell should be captain for the rest of it
Eddie Jones was unambiguous in his backing of captain Dylan Hartley earlier this week — he will be England's skipper for the Six Nations and rightly so.
With Hartley's club Northampton struggling, the debate has re-emerged and Eddie was right to nip it in the bud. That tells us the relationship between an international coach and his captain, like any selection issue, is an art not a science.
Jones and Hartley clearly works, as their record of just one defeat in two years testifies.
Dylan Hartley needs to start playing full matches if he is to justify his role as England captain
I like Hartley as a player and a captain and I say that as one who has backed him all the way since his controversial appointment two years ago. It has worked and both Jones and Hartley should be applauded.
Hartley is Eddie's man, a player who has never once let him down either as a captain or as hooker.
All that being said, if I take myself out of Eddie's shoes and apply logic — not chemistry and instinct — to the England captaincy, we enter a fascinating debate. And with Jamie George still in great form, that isn't going to go away.
I am often asked how I picked my captain. I went through this process twice, when I first became England coach in 1997 and when I needed to change the captaincy in 1999 after Lawrence Dallaglio had his entanglement with the News of the World.
I have a five-point check list which I adapted from my business career.
Hartley and Eddie Jones works - as their record of just one defeat in two years testifies
1) Is the player an automatic first choice who will play every minute and get into any team in the world? (50 per cent)
2) Do I trust the player to deliver what my team will represent on and off the pitch. When I am not in the room, what will he be saying? (20 per cent)
3) Does he have the unequivocal respect of the team in how he operates as a professional? (10 per cent)
4) Does he have the ability to perform under pressure and make the big decisions at critical moments? Is he prepared to learn this skill? Ideally, he will also captain his club side successfully. (10 per cent)
5) Do I enjoy his company? We do not need to be mates but we do need to have an ongoing relationship and consistent dialogue on everything to do with the team. (10 per cent)
But Hartley (L) has been a shadow of himself as a player and skipper at struggling Northampton
Hartley has been caught in a tough environment and its no surprise his form has suffered
I was extremely lucky to have Lawrence and Martin Johnson as my captains. They ticked all five points and then some!
Currently, if you apply Hartley's England form rather than his club form, he ticks four out of five and it seems it will take a couple of average performances and England defeats for any changes.
In an ideal world you would make your changes from a position of strength and this is where the head coach earns his corn.
If England wait until they lose a couple of matches before acting, it could get complicated and they might lose the momentum that has been created over the last couple of years.
The new hooker — presumably George — comes into a losing team and the new skipper, almost certainly Owen Farrell, suddenly needs to produce results.
And with Jamie George still in great form, the question of whether Hartley deserves a spot in the England team, let alone keep his role as captain, is not going away anytime soon
The reality at club level is that Hartley has been a shadow of himself as a player and skipper for Northampton.
He is caught in a tough environment and cannot be expected to lift an entire club on his own so it is little wonder that his form has dropped. I bet he could not wait to get into England camp but you can't always assume you will be able to get up for a Test when it comes along.
This is why point No 1 is so important. I want my captain to be the unequivocal first choice in his position and ideally on the pitch in the last 10 minutes. This hasn't been the case with Hartley for club or country.
My advice to Hartley would be to start stamping your feet and insisting you finish the majority of games. I cannot imagine any of rugby's great leaders, past or present, sitting on the bench when the game reaches its climax.
Other than his time serving suspensions, Hartley has been a mainstay for England, but it has rarely been plain sailing, with him often highlighted as a player who needs to prove himself for one reason or another.
He needs to start delivering as a player and has to play all of England's Six Nations opener
This has often been an over-reaction but the scrutiny will be greater than ever heading into this year's Six Nations.
Logic tells me that now is the time to select the England hooker purely on form, without captaincy coming into the equation. If Eddie thinks that is Hartley, then he has my total support.
Eddie and Hartley have been a great combo so far, but I'd like to see him now play for 80 minutes, starting with the Italy game.
If he can't manage a full game then logic says Farrell should captain England for the rest of the Six Nations.
But selection is the coach's No 1 priority and if Eddie's own check list, along with his gut feeling, says Hartley must continue that is good enough for me.
Now, however, more than ever, Hartley must deliver as a player.
If he can't manage that logic says Owen Farrell should be captain for the rest of the Six Nations
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