Fireworks may be predicted for the first rugby Test between Australia and England, but don’t expect any from the visitors’ controversial captain, Dylan Hartley.
England admit they expect the Wallabies to niggle Hartley in a fiery Suncorp Stadium clash on Saturday after coach Eddie Jones vowed to play “Bodyline rugby”.
But England scrum coach Neal Hatley says Northampton hooker Hartley will not lose his cool despite a horror disciplinary record, including a total of 54 weeks of suspensions.
Jones raised eyebrows when he handed the captaincy to Hartley in January after taking over the England reins following their 2015 World Cup flop.
In a move that showed Jones was out to win games, not friends, Hartley was named skipper despite copping bans that cost him two World Cups and a Lions tour of Australia.
Remarkably, his bans for eye-gouging, biting, punching, abusing a referee, elbowing and headbutting have ensured he has spent more than a year of his 10 season-plus career on the sidelines.
The biggest suspension was a 26-week ban in April 2007, which ruled him out of the World Cup that year for eye-gouging two players, including current England teammate James Haskell.
However, Hatley believes Hartley will lead by example with controlled aggression.
“I am sure they will probably niggle everybody but Hartley is our captain and our leader – we don’t have any concerns there,” Hatley said.
“Games are decided by one, two or three points.
“Everyone knows discipline will be paramount.”
Not that Hatley expects England to take a backward step, backing Jones’ call there will be a brutal onslaught from the opening scrum.
“I always expect fireworks at scrum time,” he said.
“(Australia) have improved massively under (scrum coach) Mario Ledesma.
“It’s going to be a tough contest.”
Hartley was not part of England’s World Cup squad. He was dropped by then-coach Stuart Lancaster after a carry-over suspension from England club rugby ruled him out of their opening game.
However, he has made every post a winner since his appointment as captain, leading England to a rare grand slam by winning the Six Nations final against France in March.
Hartley’s biggest concern before the Australia tour was concussion, with the 30-year-old saying one more head hit could end his career.
He has been knocked out twice this season, causing him to miss 14 weeks of rugby.
Hartley revealed he couldn’t remember lifting the Six Nations trophy after being knocked unconscious late in the final.
“If I got another one now, I would be worried. I would probably start looking at other careers or stuff like that,” he told UK’s Daily Telegraph.