With the Six Nations just a few weeks away, attention is being drawn to whether England can successfully retain their crown and win a third successive championship in the process.
Inevitably, squad selection and starting XV permutations are the fore and as a result, Dylan Hartley’s position in the team comes in question from many corners.
We have already seen Austin Healey speak out about his bemusement over Hartley’s inclusion for England and the Northampton Saints. Now, Stephen Jones, in his latest column for the Sunday Times has criticised both Eddie Jones and Hartley.
Firstly, Jones takes aim at the England head coach when he says that there has been no better time to be in charge of the national team due to the lack of adequate competition on the international stage.
It would be churlish to go too far into the theory that never in the history of international rugby, with South Africa, Australia, France, Italy, Argentina, Samoa and, until recently, Scotland either poor or downright pathetic — and no fixtures against New Zealand — has it been easier to be dominant. Eddie Jones has timed his reign splendidly.
And of course, the issue surrounding Hartley’s selection and the fact that he is captain is something that Jones also doesn’t agree with.
Hartley’s problems in terms of discipline, leadership and playing quality began way before Northampton’s decline. He does not have the presence, power and biting quotability of Martin Johnson, Dallaglio or Brian O’Driscoll; or the quiet aura of Sam Warburton, or the menace of Sean Fitzpatrick or, indeed, the follow-me exuberance on the field of Rory Best.
Dylan Hartley is by all accounts a decent bloke with a wide streak of humanity. He is neither a great player nor a great captain. One day, England will need him to be both, and they will lose.
It is unlikely that Jones will opt to leave Hartley out, such is his admiration for his captain but when you have overseen a side that has won 23 Test matches and lost just one, you can’t blame the Australian for sticking to his guns.