Above is a picture of a man who won’t be going to the World Cup. And at what cost?
Following England’s defeat to France on Saturday night, it was clear that something was missing in the team, at least for 71 long, arduous minutes.
The defeat highlighted many problems across the field – England being over-powered at the breakdown; England being over-powered in the middle of the field; England being, well, just over-powered.
Taking the first half, where England were lucky to go in with the scores so close, England could barely keep hold of the ball. When they did have it, the tactical kicking was poor and the repeated errors and penalties just kept mounting. In fairness to France, it could’ve been even more.
(Before any says anything, I know there are other areas of concern – many, in fact – but I want to talk about this one! If you want to read an article about some more of England’s problems and where they need to improve, THIS article is excellent!)
What England needed more than ever was a solid lineout. What they got was some woefully errant throwing by Tom Youngs. In replacement, Jamie George’s first effort was equally without direction, but he at least improved.
Without the ball, against a much-improved French side, England were always going to struggle.
Which brings us back to Dylan.
On 29th May, Hartley’s 4 match ban for head-butting Jamie George led Lancaster to announce he was not going to be considered for the WC. At the time, I felt this was a little short-sighted and it’s a discussion I’ve had with Steve James (@sjamesjourno) on Twitter. Recently, Steve announced his RWC Fantasy XV HERE and I asked him where Hartley would’ve been in the pecking order for the Number 2 shirt had he been available, and he said he’d have been pretty close.
On a world-scale, I don’t think he’s right up there with the very best, but for England he’s head and shoulders above the competition. Unfortunately, that head is sometimes short on grey matter and makes the wrong decisions. It’s no coincidence he’s missing a World Cup on the back of missing a Lions Tour.
Let’s be clear – we all know that there’s only one person to blame here and that’s Head-butt Hartley himself but should/could England have found a way to keep him involved, despite the misdemeanours?
Hartley’s 4 match ban would’ve meant he’d miss the 3 warm-ups and the opening match v Fiji. Lancaster’s comment at the time was “It would have left us wide open for the Fiji game”. He’s 100% correct on that, of course, but his omission leaves us wide open versus Wales and Australia without him.
There’s always the chance Hartley loses his head at the World Cup, too, but for me, England needed him.
It’s all about opinions, and I’m glad I’m not the coach, but in my squad, Dylan is in. I’d take a part-fit Hartley over a fully-fit Youngs every day of the week, and twice on match-days! With this squad, we need to take risks to win back Billy, and this is a risk worth taking.
Lancaster won’t (and can’t, really) change his mind so I guess the above is all moot but at least now I get to say “I told you so” at the end!