Dylan Hartley has cautioned the media about generating too much hype about impressive Exeter out-half Joe Simmonds, the former England skipper claiming that a press campaign to get the youngster called up to Test level could work against him in the eyes of Eddie Jones.
Hartley likes the composed strut of 23-year-old Simmonds who is set to play European and Premiership finals on successive Saturdays to advance his credentials for a first England call-up.
However, he fears too much hype by the media demanding to see ‘Simmonds for England’ could result in Jones digging his heels in and taking the opposing view, as was previously the case regarding Maro Itoje and Jamie George.
Speaking on the latest episode of RugbyPass Offload, Hartley sang the praises of young Exeter skipper Simmonds but he wasn’t banking on an England call-up materialising due to Jones’ stubborn selection habits.
“No players hates being talked about in a positive light but it probably works in a favour of non-selection,” explained Hartley. “I saw this happen with Maro Itoje. In the Six Nations a couple of years ago everyone was saying, ‘Pick Maro, pick Maro, pick Maro’.
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“Maro was ready to go. He was good as gold. He was playing well in European rugby, Premiership rugby, doing what he does now, and Eddie was saying, ‘He’s not ready yet, he’s not ready yet’. Then three games (later) against Italy he caps him.
“It has to be on his terms, has to be his timing. Eddie is very much his own man and needs to make those calls himself and will not be told what to do by the media. It’s almost out of principle that he does it.
“The media kept me in a job for about three years because Jamie George was a far better player and they were saying, ‘Pick Jamie George, pick Jamie George’ and Eddie stuck to his guns and said, ‘Nah, I’m not going to pick him because they are telling me to’. It kind of kept me in a job, so I have got to thank the media for that actually.”
That said, Hartley has been impressed by Simmonds’ rise to great prominence at Exeter. “Impressive young guy. Really understated. Quite pragmatic, which you need from your fly-half, and he does have those kinds of glimpses of brilliance. But look, it’s difficult.
“I just see international rugby as being about timing and opportunity. No one just gets invited because they are good. You have got to look for a need and does the boss Eddie have the need for a fly-half to challenge?
“He has got two blue-collar, hard-working, hard-nosed Northerners (Owen Farrell, George Ford). Does he need another option at fly-half? Of course, he does. He’s got his Marcus Smiths and I’m sure he has got an eye on Joe, but does he have a need?
“Look, you can’t ignore the fact that he is playing in two finals. That is a hell of a shop window to put himself in. As a player, you have got the opportunity now to display your talent on the biggest stage and it’s just an opportunity he has got to take and ask that question of Eddie Jones. But the more we talk about him the less chance he will get picked. Eddie is his own man.”
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