Rugby Union

Dylan Hartley on returning to the England side and having to share the captaincy

Dylan Hartley is back at the crease to resume his pursuit of only the second century in English rugby history.

Seven months after concussion placed a question mark over his rugby future, Hartley has earned the nod over British & Irish Lions star Jamie George to start against South Africa in Saturday’s opening Autumn international.

It will be the Northampton hooker’s 94th Test, placing him second on the nation’s most-capped list behind Jason Leonard (114) — the only Englishman to reach three figures.

“I’m delighted I’m still here, still having the chance to play for England,” said Hartley, whose career was described as “touch and go” by boss Eddie Jones following his latest concussion in March.

“Everyone asks about trying to get to 100 games. I can honestly say I’m not counting. I’m just looking forward to the next one because you don’t know when your last game is. When people start talking about 100 Tests, I think it’s a bit like climbing a mountain. The higher you get, the harder it gets.”

Since his last cap in March, Hartley has seen the armband passed to Owen Farrell and been forced to sit out a 2-1 series defeat at Saturday’s opponents.

Although Jones has reinstated him at the earliest opportunity, he returns only as co-captain, with his room-mate Farrell sharing the duties.

They have a massive task on their hands — South Africa have a monster-sized pack, while England will be without SEVEN of their own front-line forwards.

Jones believes the pair working together offers his team their “most powerful” leadership option.

“Owen is very strong tactically,” he said. “Dylan is the guy who says, ‘Let’s bash them’.”

Hartley insists that far from having his nose put out of joint by his demotion to a job-share, it is merely confirmation of an arrangement which has existed informally for three years.

“I’ve always bounced ideas off Owen,” he said. “He has been a sounding board for me and vice versa. Any ideas have always been discussed in the room we share at Pennyhill Park. Owen has just got an official title now.”

Hartley shrugged off concerns at the Bok juggernaut bound for Twickenham and demanded England be a “different and improved” side to that which lost in South Africa.

They are going to need to be.

Will England beat South Africa at Twickenham?


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