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“Eddie is a legend. I loved working with him.”
There are few men who know Eddie Jones better than Dylan Hartley. Indeed, there are few men who know Hartley better than Jones.
The former England captain owes plenty to the Australian. Cast your mind back to the last Rugby World Cup and the Northampton Saints hooker was an international pariah, not picked for the tournament after receiving a ban for headbutting opposite number Jamie George in a Premiership semi-final that would cause him to miss the first game. Hartley was dismissed as a not-to-be-trusted rogue, a hooker perhaps past his best with a spotty disciplinary history and sharp temper.
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Instead, England took George, Rob Webber and Tom Youngs, and struggled. Struggled desperately, in fact. In a side lacking in true leaders and experienced heads to guide, they remain the only World Cup hosts to be bundled out of the tournament in the group stages. Head coach Stuart Lancaster lost his job; Chris Robshaw was stripped of the captaincy.
England needed a fresh start. Lancaster had helmed the side for four years, and been involved in the set-up for seven, and could no longer take them forward. The disappointment of the World Cup made his position untenable, and tainted those around him. Fresh eyes were required, experienced ones with few loyalties to the current squad, and a frank manner to put England back on the right track.
Enter Jones, fresh from guiding Japan to one of the great World Cup shocks, twice a World Cup finalist, once a winner. He was the perfect candidate. As England’s first foreign head coach, Jones could provide a fresh perspective, a view from the exterior on English rugby’s failings. All who had worked under the Australian praised his firm but fair style, and particularly his ability to get the best out of a squad.
But a great leader is nothing without an able deputy, and Jones needed a leader in the squad. Those who had been in the leadership group before were tainted fruit – the failings of the previous era made them unsuitable. Those who were coming into the side were too young and inexperienced. Lancaster’s regime had not bred leaders, not encouraged players to take charge. Jones needed someone familiar with the squad, but not too familiar – established, but not entrenched.
In many ways, just as Jones was wholly suited for the role of head coach, Hartley’s traits aligned perfectly with what Jones wanted in his England captain. Jones spoke of re-establishing the traditions of years past in a bid to build to similar success – he wanted England to dominate the set-piece and the gainline, and have a bit of an edge. Hartley was a throwback of sorts. In the age of multi-faceted front-rowers, hookers more comfortable in open pasture than the tightly-packed abattoirs of international rugby, Here was a hooker who built his game on set-piece solidity, grit and grunt. Jones, a hooker himself in his playing days, could forget the disciplinary issues – Hartley was the man to take England forward.
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