World Cup winning captain Martin Johnson is backing Dylan Hartley to be included in Eddie Jones’s England squad for this year’s tournament in Japan despite the Northampton hooker having been side-lined since December by a knee injury.
Johnson knows what it’s like to triumph at the World Cup and also the problems associated with a failed campaign having been in charge of England at the 2011 tournament in New Zealand where Hartley was part of the squad. The former Leicester lock believes experience is a key factor for England and expects Jones to pick Hartley as one of his three hookers for Japan where the 2003 champions are in the same pool as France, Argentina, USA and Tonga.
With England having failed to get out of their pool as the host country in 2015, Jones is under pressure to ensure a successful Cup challenge and Johnson said: “Trust is a big word at this point. It’s not only about who Eddie trusts in his squad, it’s also important amongst the players. You need to be lining up against players you trust will perform every time.
“There’s plenty of players who can turn it on now and then, when it’s all going their way, and everyone looks good, but you want the players who are going to perform when you’re 15-10 points down with 10 minutes to go. Who do you believe in then? Who do you trust then, and I think Dylan Hartley is one of those.
“I think Eddie Jones is already quite sure on where he is with his squad, but the players have to make sure they back it up. You can’t go into a World Cup camp thinking you are definitely on the plane to Japan, even if you already know you probably are – you have to go and produce the goods.”
The fact that 97-cap Hartley, 33, is going to be short of match practise will be a factor and Johnson sees experience as tipping the balance it the hooker’s favour. “It’s a difficult one with Dylan because you never know with these injuries, but I’m really hoping we will see him at the World Cup in the autumn,” said Land Rover ambassador Johnson, who was speaking at this season’s Premiership Final where he supported the national grassroots initiative, the Land Rover Premiership Rugby Cup.
“He’s a vital cog in England’s line-up as a very experienced player. If he gets to Japan, it will be his third World Cup and he will desperately want to get there. England will be sure to want him because you have to take three hookers. I think rugby-wise he would be fine, because he has played so many games in his career. When you’re as experienced as he is, you can take a little while out and come back in and be immediately okay.
“There will be players who come in because they have been doing exceptionally or because someone else has an injury, but I don’t see that person being someone who has never been in the England set-up.”
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