Hartley’s madness hurts him again

Date published: May 29 2015

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Dylan Hartley's World Cup fate will be decided in the near future but his latest indiscretion must have driven Stuart Lancaster insane.

Off the field Hartley is a likeable character who speaks with maturity and as captain of Northampton Saints has led the club to Premiership glory. 

Yet Hartley is also a player who has racked up over a year's worth of bans – surely some kind of record – for a colourful list of offences including gouging, biting, punching and verbally abusing a referee.

The last one cost him a place with the British and Irish Lions. Two years later, a pointless head charge at Jamie George may wreck his Rugby World Cup prospects. Or will it?

Hartley's suspension as things stand, after he pleaded guilty to the offence, means he will miss England's first game and the World Cup opener against Fiji at Twickenham.

England will name three hookers in their 31-man squad, previously expected to be Hartley along with Tom Youngs and then one other, meaning that should Hartley be selected they would start the competition with only two options at their disposal.

That is a gamble in itself, relying that the other two hookers will be fit and firing and effectively carrying Hartley as a deadweight in the squad for the first game.

That is the short-term issue. Lancaster though will now be contemplating an even more perplexing question – how can Hartley be trusted to toe the line after so many indiscretions?

World Cups can hinge on a yellow or even a red card, with Hartley's tarnished history not exactly shining in his favour.

He is an excellent hooker – physical, technically strong, an effective ball carrier – but has he ever truly learned from his numerous mistakes.

Time and again we have heard that Hartley has turned the corner before finding him back in front of a disciplinary committee.

Lancaster has acted with impressive authority in recent weeks handling the case of Manu Tuilagi and with putting a nail in the overseas players issue, but this is more perplexing.

Can he bring himself to give arguably England's best hooker another chance because of what he can and should do on the pitch, or does he step back and analyse the effect keeping Hartley in the squad would have on the team along with the now undeniable risk that comes with playing him.

With the World Cup ticking closer these are the exact situations that Lancaster and England do not want or need. Settling on the right outcome will not be easy. 

If Hartley has blown it yet again he will forever regret it, but it's hard to ignore the 54 weeks worth of bans now looming over his name. The gut reaction however is that he will still make the squad.

by Ben Coles

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