Six Nations

England novices 'no deal-breaker' for Hartley

2017-02-11 07:13
Dylan Hartley (Getty Images)

Cardiff - England captain Dylan Hartley has dismissed talk his side's lack of back-row experience could prove decisive in Saturday's Six Nations international against Wales in Cardiff.

Grand Slam champions England will kick-off with an unfamiliar loose forward trio of No 8 Nathan Hughes, Maro Itoje - best known as a lock - and Jack Clifford, brought in by coach Eddie Jones after Tom Wood was dropped to the bench following their narrow 19-16 tournament-opening win over France.

Hughes, Clifford and Itoje have a mere four England back-row starts between them, whereas the Wales trio of Ross Moriarty, Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric boast a combined total of 130 Test appearances.

England are also missing two vastly experienced back-row forwards, with both No 8 Billy Vunipola and former captain Chris Robshaw - out for the tournament - both injured.

But New Zealand-born hooker Hartley, a veteran of 80 Tests, said: "Maro has been in the team a long time and he's a fantastic player. I don't think experience is an issue for him.

"Nathan and Jack have been around the team for a long time too - Jack went on tour (to Australia) in the summer with us, so he has done his time," he added when speaking at England's training base in Bagshot, southwest of London.

The 30-year-old Hartley insisted: "I don't think experience is going to be a deal-breaker this weekend because you look what is in front of those guys and it is a front five that is pretty hefty in caps.

"We will be just fine. We've made those guys aware of what is coming this weekend," said Hartley as he contemplated the prospect of a raucously partisan, capacity, 74,500 crowd at Cardiff's Principality Stadium.

"They are aware of that and they are the sort of guys that I think will thrive in that environment."

As for having to protect any of back-row rookies from "targeting", Hartley said: "Are you serious? Maro looks after me.

"The game has changed. If other players are doing that it is a good thing. They are not focusing on the rugby if they are chasing individuals."

Hartley has been England's captain for all the 14 straight wins they have achieved under Eddie Jones.

The Australian took over after England's first-round exit on home soil at the 2015 World Cup, where a concluding win over minnows Uruguay was not enough to overturn the impact of pool defeats by Wales and Australia.

Hartley, who has missed more than a year of his career through suspension, was not selected for the World Cup by then England coach Stuart Lancaster on account of his disciplinary record.

But one of Jones's first acts as England coach was to make him captain.

Hartley has come under pressure for his starting place from Jamie George, although Jones has been content so far to use the Saracens hooker as a third-quarter 'impact' substitute.

Hartley was not at his best against France - hardly surprising as it was his first match since he completed a six-week ban for striking - but Jones remains a fan of his leadership qualities.

"We pick the best team to win and that is the only criteria," said England forwards coach Steve Borthwick.

"Dylan will undoubtedly be better this week."

Former England captain Borthwick added: "Leadership is important and we are trying to increase the number of leaders in the team. Dylan is part of that and there are others too.

"It's brilliant to have players of the quality of Dylan and Jamie in the matchday squad."

Teams:

Wales

15 Leigh Halfpenny; 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Liam Williams; 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb; 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Sam Warburton; 5 Alun Wyn Jones (capt), 4 Jake Ball; 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Rob Evans

Substitutes: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Nicky Smith, 18 Samson Lee, 19 Cory Hill, 20 Taulupe Faletau, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Sam Davies, 23 Jamie Roberts

England

15 Mike Brown, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Elliot Daly, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 Jack Clifford, 6 Maro Itoje, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley (captain), 1 Joe Marler 

Substitutes: 16 Jamie George, 17 Matt Mullan, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Tom Wood, 20 James Haskell, 21 Danny Care, 22 Ben Te'o, 23 Jonny May

Read more on:    england  |  six nations  |  dylan hartley  |  rugby
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