Dylan Hartley ban: Stuart Lancaster admits hooker might not play for England again

Hartley will miss the World Cup after head-butting Jamie George

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The Independent Online

While a bright-eyed batch of World Cup hopefuls begin their bids for selection in the white jersey of England at Twickenham Sunday afternoon, banned hooker Dylan Hartley may never play for his country again, according to the head coach, Stuart Lancaster.

“That’s a very real possibility,” said Lancaster, when he was asked whether the emergence of hookers such as Luke Cowan-Dickie of Exeter – who starts today’s non-cap match against the Barbarians – and Saracens’ Jamie George might keep Hartley out of the team in the next World Cup cycle leading to the 2019 event in Japan. “There are so many good young players in this country. For anyone not selected for a playing reason or who gives up the shirt for a disciplinary reason then ultimately, yes, it’s a real possibility.”

Hartley’s suspension last week for a head-butt that led to Lancaster dropping him from this year’s World Cup has left Leicester’s Tom Youngs as the most experienced England hooker with 22 caps, plus two Test starts on the 2013 Lions tour.

 

Youngs’ rivals in the 50-man World Cup training squad are Bath’s Rob Webber, who has 12 Tests behind him, and the uncapped George and Cowan-Dickie, while Sale’s Tommy Taylor is on the England bench today. Hartley had started 16 of England’s past 19 games, and played in all 35 Six Nations’ Championship matches since 2009, starting every one of them in five of the past six campaigns including this year’s. But Lancaster was eager to talk up Youngs, despite the Tiger’s poor statistics of line-out accuracy.

“Towards the end of this year’s Six Nations we had long debates about who was going to start the final couple of games,” Lancaster said. “Tom’s impact off the bench was great but he kept coming to me, saying he wants to be known as a starting hooker. He will have the bit between his teeth this summer to get that No 2 shirt, he’s tough as teak and a great character.”

While Hartley could in theory reappear for England during the World Cup if a hooker had to be jettisoned from the tournament due to injury, the Northampton captain’s long-term prospects look shaky. Lancaster said: “Jamie George’s set-piece has always been excellent, his throwing-in is top-notch and his scrummaging is very good now. Tommy Taylor has been hugely impressive at Sale. This next generation of hookers are good.”

Dylan-Hartley.jpg
Dylan Hartley clashes with Jamie George and Jacques Burger

Asked if it was possible to teach self-discipline, Lancaster replied: “I think you can, but obviously it’s very much down to the individual as well. If, for example, a player keeps giving penalties away, then the ultimate sanction is that they don’t get picked and they have to learn their lessons on their own.”

England’s thrilling 55-35 win over France last time out at Twickenham, while not enough to win the Six Nations on points difference, opened supporters’ eyes to an exciting brand of rugby that a new midfield combination of Danny Cipriani, Henry Slade (pictured) and Elliot Daly have the talent to reprise this afternoon.

It gives this sometimes humdrum end-of-season match a fresh frisson, with Cipriani taking on the unfamiliar responsibility of the senior man alongside the uncapped centres.

“Ideally in your back line you want two people who can organise and shape the game,” said Lancaster, referring to a vision of the fly-half and inside- centre he has rarely brought off in his three-and-a-half years in charge. “We have got the Elliot Daly flying machine, Danny can pull the strings and Henry can take the ball to the line and through the line because of his physicality. Henry is talented and tough, he has good footwork and a long reach and fend.”

Slade, 22, has impressed for Exeter in both the fly-half and centre positions. He is also coping with Type 1 Diabetes, which requires him to test his blood-sugar level before, during and after games. Injections of insulin and bags of jelly babies taken at the right time are needed to maintain a steady blood-sugar level and ward off bouts of shaking and a feeling of pins and needles in his limbs.

Teams:

England: M Tait (Leicester); C Wade (Wasps), E Daly (Wasps), H Slade (Exeter), M Yarde (Harlequins); D Cipriani (Sale), L Dickson (Northampton; capt); M Mullan (Wasps), L Cowan-Dickie (Exeter), K Brookes (Newcastle), E Slater (Leicester), J Launchbury (Wasps), M Wilson (Newcastle), J Clifford (Harlequins), J Beaumont (Sale).

Barbarians: G Aplon (Grenoble, SA); D Smith (Toulon, Samoa), J Rokocoko (Bayonne, NZ), W Olivier (Montpellier, SA), U Monye (Harlequins, Eng); T Pisi (Suntory Sungoliath, Samoa), T Cubelli (Belgrano Ath, Arg); S Taumoepeau (Castres, NZ), D Ward (Harlequins, Eng), M Diaz (Pampas, Arg), S Manoa (Northampton, US), B Thorn (Leicester, NZ; capt), G Whitelock (Panasonic Wild Knights, NZ), G Smith (Lyon, Aus), T Waldrom (Exeter, Eng).

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