Dylan Hartley: England captain? Who should it be?
I am at a loss to understand how Dylan Hartley can be considered as an England captain. Firstly, I must say, all I know of Hartley is what I have seen with my own eyes and read about. I do not know the man. Having said that, I cannot understand why he would even be in the frame.
For me, a captain must have a few specific characteristics:
1. He must be guaranteed a starting place.
2. He must be respected by his teammates
3. Sadly, in this day an age, he must be media savvy and be able to speak well in public. The public pay the bills and their support is vital to the game. The captain of England plays a vital role in developing this relationship.
4. He must lead from the front. We should all feel like we would go to war for him.
5. He must be trustworthy, both on and off the pitch.
I can think of many previous international captains who fulfill all of these criteria, Martin Johnson, Brian O’Driscoll, Ritchie McCaw, John Eales, Francois Pinaar. And of the current captains, Sam Warburton, Thierry Dusautoir and Sergio Parisse all spring to mind. I can also think of a number of senior players who would have been excellent captains but were never given a chance.
Does Dylan Hartley’s name sit alongside those mentioned above? Let’s take each point separately.
1. In a normal world, where a coach picks his best players he would not be guaranteed a starting place. However, following the astonishing decision by Eddie Jones to leave out Tom Youngs, one of the best hookers in the world in open play, in favour of Hartley and Jamie George, he probably is guaranteed a starting place. So that would imply that Jones is picking the man before the best player. I am not sure that anyone, bar the most ardent Northampton fan, could argue that Hartley is the best hooker in the country.
2. I have no evidence for this at all, but I would imagine that the only way Hartley could command respect withings an England dressing room would be to threaten them with a head butt, eye gouge or ball grab. If I were in that dressing room, I would have a hard time respecting a player who has been banned for more than a year of his career, not for cynical fouls for the benefit of his team, not for losing his cool now and then, but for violent thuggery. Head butting, eye gouging, etc has no place at all in rugby. When his ban for head butting ruled him out of the World Cup, I, alongside many others, applauded Stuart Lancaster for his hardline approach, saying that he would not be called upon even if injuries occurred.
3. I am not sure whether Dylan Hartley can speak well or not. But I imagine he will be given intensive media training so I guess this point matters least. The only thing that might happen is that the media will be trying to rule him from the get go, whereas they may not have with someone else. But who knows.
4. The one thing that Dylan Hartley will do is lead from the front. He will put everything on the line to help England win and for that he should be applauded.
5. Can he be trusted though? History would say no, he says he has changed. We shall see.
There is an argument to say that, following a dismal World Cup, England are very short of leaders on the pitch. The only other candidates for captain would probably be Mike Brown, Owen Farrell, Ben Youngs or Joe Launchbury. They all have their pros and cons but for me, the standout performer for the last few seasons, who fulfils every single one of the above, plus more, who is probably the only player guaranteed a starting place in the next England side, is Joe Launchbury. He should be captain of England. Who knows, by March, maybe he will be!