Johnson comes to Hartley's defence

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The Independent Online

Martin Johnson has dismissed fears over Dylan Hartley's temperament and backed the uncapped Northampton hooker to cope with the pressures of playing international rugby.

Hartley's on-field behaviour has come in for scrutiny since he was banned for six months last year for an eye-gouging incident involving Wasps and England flanker James Haskell.

The 22-year-old was involved in another off-the-ball incident last Sunday in Northampton's EDF Energy Cup defeat to Saracens when he appeared to stiff arm Moses Rauluni at the side of a ruck.

That prompted Saracens director of rugby Eddie Jones to question Hartley's readiness for Test match rugby.

But England manager Johnson insists he has no concerns about handing the New Zealand-born player a first cap against the Pacific Islands at Twickenham on Saturday week.

Johnson said: "I am not concerned about Dylan. He had a long suspension and he is aware he may have picked up a bit of a reputation but we are not concerned about it.

"We trust him to be involved in the squad. If we didn't trust him then we wouldn't have him here.

"He is a young guy who is enthusiastic and sometimes that goes the wrong way and over the top. I know what that's about, and the key is to control it.

"If I thought he was a liability to this team then he would not be in this squad. He is a young and enthusiastic guy who wants to play rugby.

"He was banned for six months and that's that."

Another player who has had to cope with extra attention is Wasps youngster Danny Cipriani, since starting a relationship with actress and model Kelly Brook.

The 20-year-old fly-half has made a remarkable recovery from a fracture dislocation of his ankle sustained last May and is set to wear the number 10 shirt at Twickenham next week.

Johnson is confident Cipriani has his priorities right.

"Initially we thought Danny would not be fit before the new year but the guy worked incredibly hard to get himself back," Johnson said.

"That didn't just happen by accident. Everything I have seen of him suggests he works very hard at being a good rugby player. He doesn't get treated any differently to anyone else here."

Johnson's former team-mate and World Cup winner Josh Lewsey was one of eight England players released back to their clubs on Monday.

Johnson admitted he found it difficult telling Lewsey he may not be required for next Saturday's clash but believes he will return to international rugby sooner rather than later.

He said: "With the injuries we have had, anything could happen. Josh will be back with us next week training and we have four internationals.

"Josh has played 50 times for England in a number of positions and guys like that are valuable in the squad.

"Like I said to him, I could ring him Thursday and he could be straight back in."

England still have injury concerns over full back Mathew Tait (hamstring) and number eight Luke Narraway (hamstring).

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