Dylan Hartley is still my leader, says Eddie Jones

Eddie Jones has given Dylan Hartley his wholehearted backing to continue as England captain despite the troubles at Northampton and his own poor form that has led former international players such as Lawrence Dallaglio and Austin Healey to question his right to lead his country.

The England head coach has no reservations, though, even though he says that "2018 is when you win or lose a World Cup through your planning and your preparation in developing a team that is tough enough, resilient enough and adaptable enough".

Leader: England's Dylan Hartley holds up the Calcutta Cup.

Photo: Alastair Grant

As Jones wrapped up a two-day training camp in Brighton, he extolled the virtues of the man who has been his captain since the Australian took over two years ago and embarked on a run of 21 victories in 22 Tests.

"No," said Jones emphatically when asked if he had revised his opinion of Hartley following recent events. "I don't watch club rugby to assess them on how they play at clubs.

"I watch club rugby to assess how they are going to play at international level, which is completely different. Some guys can be outstanding club players and be poor at international level. Some guys can be poor club players and outstanding international players.

"As long as Dylan's attitude is right, his body is right, he brings something to the table that we need at the moment, and that is strong leadership. We have discussed it. It's been a tough time for Dylan.

"When you are captain of a club that is struggling, a club that has just sacked their coach, it becomes a difficult time.

"I think that has been reflective of his play, but as the very good players do, they compartmentalise things, and he has done that terrifically well, come in and led with effervescence and trained well. It is not a concern."

Even though Jones had several players unable to train because of short-term injuries, he was boosted by news that Saracens forwards Billy Vunipola and Maro Itoje have every chance of returning for their club in the Aviva Premiership match against Wasps at the Ricoh Arena on Sunday.

Itoje has been missing for a month with a broken jaw, while Vunipola has been out of action since September with a knee problem, having pulled out of the Lions tour in May with a shoulder issue.

Vunipola played only one Test last season because of injury, and Jones admitted on Tuesday that he had been wrong to rush him back for the Grand Slam game against Ireland in March.

However, Jones made no attempt to downplay the significance of the 25-year-old's possible availability for the Six Nations. "I gambled with Billy against Ireland and it was a bad gamble," he said. "I am a bit more cautious this time.

"In terms of running metres per team in the world, the top three are New Zealand, Australia and France. That is one of the key metrics for winning games, and we are not in the top three. Billy is one of our most athletic guys, as he is fast for a big guy and has good feet."

Nathan Hughes, the Wasps No 8, is also on the injury list, and Jones revealed that Exeter's Sam Simmonds would be in pole position if Vunipola does not come up to physical scratch over the next three weeks,

"Sam is light but runs good lines, is a good learner, a humble boy, outstanding," said Jones, whose monitoring of players extended to having a Christmas Eve chat with Wasps fly-half Danny Cipriani.

"We had a discussion about what he needs to do," said Jones. "If George Ford and Owen Farrell were out injured, then there is a possibility we'd bring him in as a main No 10, but I wouldn't have him in the squad as a supporting No 10."

Telegraph UK

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