LONDON: Eddie Jones has admitted he will "hope and pray" Dylan Hartley's disciplinary record does not come back to haunt his new England captain, who said he is at his best when playing "on the edge".
Hartley was unveiled on Monday as Jones' official captain for the Six Nations Championship, with the new England head coach swayed by the combative attributes and experience the Northampton hooker would bring to lead his new-look side.
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Jones, however, conceded that the appointment did not come without an element of risk, given Hartley's disciplinary rap sheet that totals 54 weeks of suspensions since 2007, a record the England coach took into consideration before anointing him as Chris Robshaw's successor.
"You always look at that [his disciplinary record], mate," Jones said. "You just have to hope and pray it's not going to happen. People mature. We all make mistakes as young people. I made a hell of a lot as a young coach. He has made some mistakes. He's got a wife, he's got a young daughter. Life changes, priorities change."
Hartley's disciplinary record is in stark contrast to that of Robshaw, who has received just three yellow cards for Harlequins during his entire career, but Jones believes his new captain is worth the risk in his mission to make England a world force again.
"Dylan can lead the side with the sort of attitude we want," Jones said. "We want a team with an uncompromising feel about it. The biggest risk was to not take a risk.
"We need to get back to what the rest of the world fears about English rugby and that's their forward play. I was telling a few of the players, when I was coaching Australia against England, if we could get parity in the scrum and maul, we knew we could win the game.
"We need to get back to that English style of play that's based on a strong scrum, driving maul, an uncompromising clean-out.
"Dylan has been successful as a player. He has 66 caps and has been a successful captain for Northampton. He is experienced, he plays like that and he will lead like that, so the players will follow him."
Hartley admitted he had been "totally surprised" by his appointment just months after he was left out of England's World Cup campaign having picked up his latest sanction, a four-week ban for butting Jamie George that ruled him out of the opening game against Fiji last September. But the 29-year-old, who is the most capped player in the England squad, does not intend to change his game.
"I am me," Hartley said. "It's there in print for you to see what I've done wrong and what I've been guilty of. So it's quite nice today to be talking about something nice, for once.
"I'm well aware of the perception and the reputation that comes with it - but I play my best when I'm on the edge and I just know: don't go over the edge.
"I feel comfortable doing the job, I've done it for six years, I've learnt from some of the best, I'm confident in doing it, I don't mind talking to you guys every now and then so I think I can deal with this side of it.
"I've been through thick and thin [at Northampton] and I feel like I can handle this. I feel like I'm prepared for the job."
Hartley was previously targeted by Wales head coach Warren Gatland, who suggested ahead of their Six Nations match against England in 2011 that he could "choke", and Jones welcomed the prospect of opposition teams attempting to wind up his captain.
"If he is then it's great, mate, because it takes the emphasis away from what the other team needs to do to win," Jones said.
"If they spend half their time baiting Dylan they are going to be wasting their time."
Hartley will consult a senior leadership group that will include Robshaw and defined his captaincy style as "simple".
Jones admitted it had been a difficult meeting with Robshaw on Sunday when he told him his four-year reign as captain was over but he predicted the flanker's best days were yet to come.
"He was disappointed, but I think the next part of his career is going to be the best part of his career," Jones said.
"I think he'll feel a little bit unburdened and he'll get out and play some good rugby. He's been doing that for Harlequins and I think he'll do that for England. I'm hopeful that by the end of the Six Nations, he's the best No.6 in Europe.
"He's easily the best six in England. He's got a high work-rate and reminds me of Richard Hill. He's a similar sort of player; never gets too many wraps but does the hard work and that's the sort of player he can develop as and be world class."
Hartley's disciplinary record:
Hartley, then a 21-year-old, was banned for 26 weeks for eye-gouging two Wasps players in a Premiership match in 2007, a suspension that cost him a place in England's World Cup squad.
In 2012, Hartley was hit with an eight-week ban after he bit Ireland's Stephen Ferris during a Six Nations match. The incident was not seen at the time but Hartley was punished retrospectively.
Later the same year, Hartley threw several punches while playing for Northampton against Ulster, landing one on rival hooker Rory Best that yielded a two-week ban.
Hartley found himself in hot water for verbally abusing referee Wayne Barnes in the 2013 Premiership final against Leicester.
His 11-week ban came at a high cost, ruling him out of the British and Irish Lions tour to Australia.
In another incident against Leicester, this time in 2014, Hartley was sent off for elbowing Matt Smith in the face and received a three-week ban.
A head-butt on Saracens' Jamie George in the Premiership semi-final proved to be the final straw for England coach Stuart Lancaster who axed Hartley from his World Cup training squad. Hartley served a four-week ban for the offence.
The London Telegraph, Reuters