Eddie Jones is making no apology for appointing rugby bad boy Dylan Hartley as his England team captain, instead hailing the much-banned hooker’s aggressive approach.
New Zealand-born Hartley appears set to skipper England on its three-Test tour to Australia in June after ex-Wallabies coach Jones handed him the reins on Monday ahead of next month’s Six Nations tournament.
Hartley has won 66 caps since his Test debut in 2008 but his career has been plagued by bad behaviour, accumulating bans totalling 54 weeks for head-butting, biting, gouging, swearing at a referee, elbowing and punching.
The 29-year-old was dropped from England’s squad for last year’s Rugby World Cup after his latest indiscretion, then coach Stuart Lancaster saying he could “no longer be trusted” after being suspended for a head-butt in a club game.
But Jones, who replaced Lancaster in November in the fallout from England’s World Cup failure, has offered Hartley a chance at redemption, saying he admired his “aggressive and uncompromising approach”.
“As a former captain of Northampton Saints and someone who has a lot of experience playing for England I have every faith he will lead the team tactically and passionately. English rugby is indebted to Northampton to have produced such a fine player,” Jones said in an RFU statement.
“Dylan is an honest, hardworking bloke and I admire his aggressive and uncompromising approach to playing rugby… We look forward to working very closely with him to build a successful England team.”
Hartley will lead England in their first Six Nations championship game against Scotland at Murrayfield on February 6.
Back-row forward Chris Robshaw was captain throughout Lancaster’s near four-year reign, leading his country 42 times and culminating in last year’s World Cup when England failed to get past the group stage on home soil.
England have not won the tournament since 2011 but start as favourites.
Hartley makes no apology for a dire disciplinary record that has prevented him from appearing in one World Cup and on one British and Irish Lions tour, and will continue to play with fire.
“I am me. It’s there in print for you to see what I’ve done wrong and what I’ve been guilty of,” said Hartley, who answered “simple” when asked to describe his leadership style.
“I’m well aware of the perception and the reputation that comes with it, but I play my best when I’m on the edge. I just know to not go over the edge.”
Hartley has led England on one previous occasion – in a 14-14 draw against South Africa in 2012 – but Monday’s longer-term appointment provides a fuller episode of an eventful career that saw him arrive in England from his home town of Rotorua, New Zealand, as a 16-year-old.
Jones insists none of the views he gauged before deciding Hartley was to be Chris Robshaw’s successor were negative, but accepts there is an element of risk in the decision.
“You just have to hope and pray it’s not going to happen. People mature. We all make mistakes as young people. I made a hell of a lot as a young coach,” Jones said.
“He has made some mistakes. He’s got a wife, he’s got a young daughter. Life changes, priorities change.”