Despite tentative speculation that Dylan Hartley would be left out of England’s side to face Italy on Sunday, head coach Eddie Jones hasn’t wavered.
The captain was replaced by Jamie George soon after the second half restart in the victory against Wales at Cardiff a fortnight ago, leading to speculation that the 26-year-old might get the nod ahead of the Northampton hooker in Jones’ heavily-rotated side to play against the Azzurri – especially considering the general consensus that Hartley has not been performing to his usual standard in this year’s competition.
However, Jones has defiantly stated that Hartley is the first name on the teamsheet.
Speaking to the media ahead of the clash at Twickenham, Jones dispelled any notion that George was going to start ahead of Hartley, even for a match that England should be very comfortable in:
“There was never any doubt Dylan was going to be captain and never any doubt he was going to start.
“Obviously Jamie is disappointed, because he wants the spot. And at some stage, he will get it. Dylan can’t play until he’s 50.”
Despite the retention of Hartley in the side, Jones has made a number of changes, mostly at the back, as he takes the risk that even a rotated side will have way too much firepower for Conor O’Shea’s struggling Italy team.
On this week’s Oval Office Podcast, Rob Henderson tells us about Ireland’s 12 potential Lions, Paddy Butler identifies weaknesses in the French game plan, Mako Vunipola discusses the challenge of facing Tadhg Furlong and historian David Toms relives Ireland’s 2007 clash with England in Croke Park.