Head coach Eddie Jones believes Dylan Hartley’s leadership qualities have assumed new heights following a commanding display during England’s record 30-6 victory over Australia at Twickenham on Saturday.
England chalked up their fifth successive triumph over the Wallabies in a clash that, at times, generated rancour, certainly from Australia’s perspective as boss Michael Cheika was plunged into a fit of rage.
Jones reacted tetchily to suggestions that England had been fortunate, instead declaring himself content with winning an “arm wrestle” of a match which leaves only Samoa to be beaten for a second successive unbeaten autumn.
Hartley’s place in England’s starting XV has often been debated with British and Irish Lion Jamie George still awaiting his first start, but Jones was happy to heap praise on the burgeoning captaincy credentials of his No1 hooker.
“I thought Dylan was outstanding, absolutely outstanding,” said Jones. “His captaincy was first class. He truly is a good leader and he is moving from being a good captain to an even better captain.
“He manages the referee well and he manages the team well. He’s got a good demeanour about him with the referee. It is so important for the captain to have a good relationship with the referee and he does it brilliantly.
“It’s difficult to referee the game. We play a game that has contest in every component and therefore one team is trying to keep the ball and one team is trying to get the ball and your ability to communicate effectively with the referee is so important.”
Jones pointed to Hartley’s chequered past, which includes him being slapped with suspensions totalling more than a year, and his gratitude at being offered the opportunity to lead England for his increasing effectiveness as the team’s figurehead.
“He’s been around a bit,” added Jones. “He’s seen the bottom of the trough and he’s now surfing at the top of the crest and appreciates relationships, he appreciates the opportunity of what he is doing and he is only going to grow as captain.”
Jones, meanwhile, was also keen to talk up the prowess of his “finishers” as the Australian again used his bench to great effect as England scored 17 points in the final eight minutes.
Harlequins scrum-half Danny Care, who crossed the line in the dying embers of the tussle, was the standout member of the second-half introductions, and Jones believes that ability to strike late is imperative looking through the prism of a World Cup.
“You only have to go through New Zealand’s record over the last five or six years and how many Test matches they have won in the last 20 minutes and that’s when it counts. You get in the contest in the first 20 and then you win the contest in the last 20,” said Jones.
Another potential shot across New Zealand’s bow is the possible defection to England of Hurricanes skipper Brad Shields, who is set to join Premiership side Wasps at the end of the next Super Rugby season.
Versatile forward Shields qualifies for England through his parents, although Jones opted to remain tight-lipped over his chances of pulling on an England jersey. He said: “Players I cannot select I’m not concerned with. But if he comes over and starts playing then I’ll have a look at him.”