England head coach Eddie Jones insists Dylan Hartley is match-ready for his side’s Six Nations opener against France after confirming the Northampton hooker as his captain for the championship.
Hartley’s six-week suspension for striking Leinster flanker Sean O’Brien in December only expired on Monday, and the 30-year-old will not have played for nine weeks by the time of England’s clash with Les Bleus on 4 February.
The suspension revived concerns over Hartley’s ill-discipline – he has been banned for a combined 60 weeks during his career – while doubts were cast over the New Zealand-born forward’s ability to be match fit for the start of the Six Nations.
“I haven’t actually told him, shall I say now? I’d like to announce Dylan as the captain,” said Jones at the Six Nations launch.
“I think he’s ready. He trained well on Tuesday and has still got a couple of days to go. We’re pleased to have him back. It’s the continuity of the job.”
Hartley, meanwhile, admits that he feared his latest red card, awarded during Northampton’s 37-10 European Champions Cup defeat to Leinster, put his captaincy at risk.
“When I got my red card, obviously it jeopardises a lot things,” said Hartley. “I put myself in a difficult position, and the team and the management in a difficult position. But I have done my time. I feel fit, fresh and focused and I’m privileged to be here.”
Jones, who was sporting a black eye at the championship’s launch having slipped in the shower of his hotel, admitted that flanker James Haskell is a doubt to face France due to a toe injury despite re-joining the squad.
The Australian also confirmed that prop Joe Marler and second row George Kruis are on course to feature following leg and cheekbone injuries respectively.