Ever since Stuart Lancaster took over as England Rugby coach he has always emphasised to his players how important the values of the game are. He places a lot of importance on how they behave off the field as well as on it and he insists that the Core Values of the game are followed; Teamwork, Respect, Enjoyment, Discipline and Sportsmanship.
Two recent incidents have shown that he is a man that sticks to his principles. Over the last eighteen months there has been a growing campaign in the rugby press to bring Toulon’s Steffon Armitage into the squad, that campaign gaining momentum when Nick Abendanon’s form for Clermont brought him into the limelight. However there was never any doubt in my mind that they would not be considered for selection for England’s World Cup squad.
The rule imposed by England Rugby not to select those playing outside England is there to protect the long term future of the game in England. If players want to play for England they must play in England and their loyalty will be rewarded. Over the past three years Lancaster has nurtured his squad into one of the best in the world without necessarily having any superstars, relying on a strong team ethic and the desire to play for each other and their country to drive players to constantly improve.
rich French sides, decimating the Premiership of its best English players and ultimately damaging the game in the long term. It would also show a lack of respect to those players who have stayed in England to play to have the chance to wear the red rose at the World Cup.
We then get to the Tuilagi incident where Lancaster has said he would not select Manu until the New Year following his conviction for assault. This is consistent with how he treated Danny Care in 2012 after the scrum-half was found guilty of drink-driving and also Delon Armitage’s removal from the Saxons squad ban after an assault conviction. The way players behave in public is very important to Stuart Lancaster, the RFU and to the image of the game, so it was inevitable that Tuilagi would be punished despite his potentially being a wrecking-ball that could destroy defensive lines in the World Cup.
But now the England coach has a new dilemna following Dylan Hartley receiving yet another ban for foul play. Will he be dropped from the England squad as he won’t be able to play until the second game of England’s World Cup campaign? My feeling is that he will remain part of the squad but that would not make Lancaster inconsistent. I take the view that Hartley’s on-field indiscretions have all been punished by the appropriate disciplinary panel and therefore Rugby has dealt with them, so for Lancaster to add a further sanction from the game would in effect be saying that the panel was too lenient. However, he may decide that the risk of Hartley being red-carded during the tournament is too great and so drop him for that reason, but I think he will stay in as he is regarded by many as the best England hooker by quite a margin.
The news has come through that Hartley will not be part of England’s World Cup squad. A brave decision and one that I applaud, although the reason is not because this latest ban is one of a long list during Hartley’s career.
He won’t be available for the two warm-up games nor the opening match against Fiji, and that is at the heart of the decision; England would have only two specialist hookers in the squad so an injury to one of them in the run up to the Fiji game could create a big problem.
I cant help thinking that we may have seen the last of Hartley in an England shirt as playing in France may be where he decides his future lies.
Click here for the full statement from England Rugby