Murray Kinsella reports from London

DYLAN HARTLEY WAS in rather spiky form this afternoon in London, as Eddie Jones confirmed that the Northampton hooker will continue as England captain for the 2017 Six Nations.

Hartley saw red in December against Leinster. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The first question of the day to Hartley was one about his fitness after serving a six-week suspension for his red card for a dangerous tackle on Leinster’s Sean O’Brien back in December.

“We did this last year, talked about me,” said Hartley. “I’m here to talk about the team.”

Unfortunately for Hartley, this was his first time in front of the media since his ban for the hit to the back of O’Brien’s head at Franklin’s Gardens, so the questions were always going to centre on his discipline.

Sitting alongside Eddie Jones – who was sporting a bandage on his bruised face – certainly meant the situation was diffused for Hartley, with the England head coach providing his usual dose of humour.

Question – Dylan, do you have to change the way you play?

Jones interjects.

“He’s had 60 weeks off mate, he’s a world expert!”

Cue the laughter that is so often present in Jones’ press conferences, before Hartley had a chance to answer the question.

“Yes,” said Hartley, although he didn’t delve into how he will control his aggression more maturely.

“The much documented tackle technique, I’ve been working very hard with Gussie [England defence coach Paul Gustard] on that.

“We always want to tackle low, but there are times when, as a second man, low isn’t an option. It’s about my arms, bring them tighter to my body, following through with those, then shoulder, then arm.

“A few technical things, but the sanctions have changed and we’re looking after player safety. As players, we’re seeing a lot more incidents in games now, so we have to adapt.”

So the O’Brien incident was a purely technical issue?

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“I think that’s been dealt with,” was Hartley’s answer.

Hartley was in London at the Six Nations launch. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Jones has been happy to toe the same line with regards to Hartley’s latest ban in a long line of them, pointing to it as a technical issue rather than it being a sign of a player who sometimes loses control of his discipline.

“You put speed cameras in and what happens? You get hundreds of thousands of people getting fined,” said Jones, alluding to the recent increased focus on high tackles. “A year later the fines decrease.

“It’s the same with high tackles. It will be the same until people learn to drive safely, and safely is within the speed limit. We want kids to play rugby, we don’t want parents worried about the safety of their kids. That’s the future of the game.”

Hartley claims he is feeling fit, confident and fresh after his break. The Saints front row has been part of England’s training camp in Portugal this week and says past experiences of having had time off before a Test window means he understood how to manage recent months.

“Last Six Nations I did it, pre-Australia tour I had some time out. I know where I need to be. Eddie gave me a seven out of 10 last week, so I might have gone up to an eight out of 10.”

Hartley had not been officially confirmed as England’s captain until today’s Six Nations event in London, though it was no surprise to see 30-year-old turn up with Jones.

And with questions about Hartley’s leadership coming up yet again, Jones took the opportunity to formally state that the New Zealand native will captain England again in the upcoming tournament.

“Well I haven’t actually told him yet. Shall I say it now?” said Jones, the big grin breaking out on his face again. “Okay, I’d like to officially announce that Dylan is the captain. There you go!”

Dylan, do you like Eddie keeping you on your toes?

“Honestly? Yeah, I do.”

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