England coach Eddie Jones has praised his “blokey” captain Dylan Hartley as a relationship builder, “except with those he bites”.
Hartley was a controversial choice by Jones to replace back rower Chris Robshaw as skipper after the Australian took over as coach following England’s miserable 2015 World Cup campaign.
But it has proven an inspired decision with former bad boy hooker Hartley a key figure in England’s unbeaten eight Test run to Six Nations glory and victory in the current series in Australia.
It was hardly surprising Jones’ choice raised eyebrows, given the disciplinary rap sheet amassed by New Zealand-born Hartley, who moved to England in his mid-teens.
He has been suspended for a total of 54 weeks for a range of offences, including eye-gouging, headbutting, biting, punching, elbowing and abusing an official.
Two of those bans led to him missing out on the biggest events for a British player.
His 11-week suspension for swearing at referee Wayne Barnes and calling him a cheat forced him out of the squad for the 2013 British and Irish Lions tour of Australia.
Hartley was also left out of last year’s World Cup squad after a four-week ban for headbutting.
His longest ban was for 26 weeks after he gouged two players in 2007 and he copped an eight-week suspension for biting Ireland’s Stephen Ferris in 2012.
Despite that formidable past, Hartley has established a good rapport with referees as captain, keeping cool and calm with his new responsibilities.
Jones said he was greatly impressed with Hartley’s leadership in the niggly second Test win against Australia in Melbourne last week.
“I thought his captaincy was good, he communicated well with the referee,” Jones said.
“He was hard on the players when he needed to and he let the players go when they needed to.”
Jones lauded his captain’s personality, but couldn’t help making a tongue-in-cheek reference to his leader’s past.
“He’s a blokey bloke. He’s a knockabout sort of bloke,” Jones said.
“He’s a relationship builder. He probably doesn’t build too many relationships when he bites people.
“But he’s the sort of person who gets on well with people, so he’s got a knack of knowing when to speak to the referee, knowing when not to speak to the referee and not being at the referee all the time.”