Wasps' James Haskell welcomes Dylan Hartley's controversial appointment as England captain
Despite being the victim of an eye gouge from England’s newly-appointed captain during a 2007 Premiership match, Wasps skipper James Haskell has supported Dylan Hartley’s appointment.
The 29-year-old Kiwi-born hooker, who has won 66 international caps, has been chosen by Eddie Jones to succeed Chris Robshaw, who paid the price for his poor decision-making during England’s catastrophic World Cup campaign.
Jones has made no secret that he wants England to lose what he perceives to be a soft under-belly, and by appointing a man who at a stroke goes from Dennis the Menace to head prefect, he has certainly made a big statement.
Hartley is currently being kept out of Northampton’s starting line-up by Mike Haywood, but most fans of the red rose will be more concerned about his disciplinary record than his form.
He has served six bans in the last eight years, for offences as varied as biting, eye gouging, abusing the referee and head-butting – the latter two resulted in Hartley missing a Lions tour and the recent World Cup.
In truth, Hartley’s appointment probably tells us more about the paucity of available and realistic alternatives– Ben Youngs and James Haskell – than Jones’ preference for rehabilitating a serial offender through responsibility, but it carries as much risk as the ill-fated appointment of Kevin Pietersen as England cricket captain.
Haskell has known Hartley since the pair represented England at Under-19 level together, and says that the despite the Northampton hooker being far from a saint, he is the best man for the job.
“Dylan is a good man and a good player,” he says. “You know he will give 100 per cent and I could not care less what he has done before.”
“If you are the best guy for the job you lead by example and you play. Your track record doesn’t matter, there might be a few people with stiff collars who will get upset, but that’s the nature of the game - you live and die by the sword.”
“He is a good man and abrasive, which is what you want; he is always committed to what he does and will be a good captain. He captained Saints for a long time and commands respect from the boys.
England's James Haskell
“He expects everyone to toe the party line - he’ll lead by example and his passion for the shirt is renowned.
“I love Dylan and he is a good friend of mine. You pick the players to do a job. I am not particularly conformist myself. I don’t worry too much about people’s opinions.”
Not everyone agrees with Haskell, however, and former England captain Lewis Moody believes Hartley will eventually be unable to contain himself, and as such is a disciplinary risk.
“Dylan plays hard but every so often he strays past the mark,” Moody said.
“I was certainly never one who was afraid of flirting with the boundaries and obviously I was once sent off at Twickenham.
“But when I did have those issues I learnt from them. When I was sent off in 2005 I went to see a psychologist and never had another red or yellow card in my career.
“I don’t see that with Dylan. I see him as a constant offender who is only ever going to put his side in potentially awkward situations. As far as I’m concerned, you want your captain to lead by example on the pitch and off the field.”
Leicester chief Richard Cockerill, meanwhile, said that Tigers' Tom Youngs should be England's first choice No.2.
"I don’t care about the captaincy,” said Cockerill, himself a former England hooker, but Tom is the best hooker in the country and there's no reason why he can't lead the side
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