Dylan Hartley has not played any rugby this year but has to lead England to the Rugby World Cup with his ability to “call out” fellow teammates a crucial skill that will be needed in Japan.
Hartley, 33, who has won 97 caps, needed surgery on a troublesome knee and his absence allowed Saracens Jamie George to assume the England No2 role in the Six Nations with Owen Farrell taking over the captaincy. However, James Haskell, the England and Northampton flanker, is adamant that Hartley, who last played at the end of December, must go to the World Cup as a key element in Eddie Jones’s squad and has seen at first hand the leadership qualities that set the combative hooker apart.
Haskell, an HSBC ambassador, said: “Obviously I am biased because he is a teammate and a good friend but I believe he has to go to Japan because over the last year and a half he has been playing the best rugby of his career. I love Jamie George and he is an incredible player and the media has been all about “get rid of Dylan bring in Jamie” and when things haven’t got that well while Dylan has been out, it is then a case of get him back into the side.
“Dylan has added ball carrying to his other elements and what people didn’t see is that Eddie Jones had him on the most ridiculous individual fitness programme as England captain. Dylan had to work doubly hard and when I would wake up at the squad hotel, he would already be on his second wrestling session then into something else and he really set the example for everyone. He brings a level of mental maturity and hard nosed old school that gets the best out of people.
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“He is willing to call players out and demands standards. We live in a World of Powerpoint presentations and business talk about open honesty and no one does it. To stand up at the front of an international squad and call someone out saying what they have been doing is not good enough is really impressive. It could be that Dylan had seen someone not doing extra training or skipping a recovery session and it is hard thing to do – to be the one calling a player out in front of all the other squad members.
“You need balls and modern players don’t like it and it is tough to call out teammates. Dylan works incredibly hard behind the scenes and being out injured for this long is not a major problem.
“When I was out with my toe injury, I actually felt better for not being involved in all of those matches and with the requirements Eddie put on him as captain, I think he will be in a fresher place. I know that Dylan is training his arse off and I would 100 per cent have him in there.”
Haskell discovered on his first day at Northampton about Hartley’s hard edge having moved from Wasps and the incident is still fresh in his memory.
“I parked where I thought was OK and because it was a hot day I put the car under this big tree. Dylan was talking to me like a best friend and right at the start of the team meeting he asks “right, who has parked that silver Range Rover under the tree? You know it’s not allowed so a crate of beer for the boys!”
“He looked at me and said he knew it was may car and that we didn’t do that as a team and it was unacceptable.”
“He could have given me a heads up when we were chatting but his attitude is that no one is bigger than the system. I got 18 Coronas for the boys and when Jamie Gibson was called out for the same thing he got a six-pack of Badger ale and was massively sharpened for that nonsense!”
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