head COACH Eddie Jones insists only another disciplinary implosion can prevent Dylan Hartley resuming as England captain for the RBS Six Nations.
Hartley has been selected on the bench for the first time in Jones’s 22 Tests in charge with Chris Robshaw and George Ford named as co-captains for the climax of the autumn series against Samoa on Saturday.
Jamie George makes his first England start as hooker having won 19 caps as a replacement and while Robshaw and Ford will initially lead the team at Twickenham, they will be relieved of that duty when Hartley is brought on in the second half.
It has been made clear that Hartley remains Jones’s first lieutenant and the Northampton captain will only be relieved of that rank if he adds to his 60 weeks of suspensions between now and the start of the Championship.
“Certainly at this stage there’s no reason why he won’t be captain for the Six Nations,” said Jones.
“If he doesn’t have one of those mystical experiences at Franklin’s Gardens, then he’ll be captain. As long as that mist doesn’t come in over Franklin’s Gardens.
“Dylan understands it’s about developing a team for the World Cup. This is an opportunity for the rest of the squad to show they can step up.
“But Dylan is still captain of the side. It just so happens that he is going to finish the game for us. We want to change. We want to make people a bit more uncomfortable. We want to test our ability if Dylan’s not available, to put a team on the field and have leadership density. So it’s an opportunity for these guys to show it.”
Hartley’s last appearance on the bench was against Saturday’s opponents three years ago and the Saints front row accepts his responsibility as a supporting act having been the only constant in the starting XV since Jones’s appointment.
“For the 20-odd games I’ve played under Eddie, I’ve sat there and said, ‘boys, we’ve all got a role to play, whether you are a starter or a finisher’,” Hartley said.
“So it would be unfair for me to say that for the last two years and then not fulfil my role this week.”
England have made nine changes to the side that thumped Australia 30-9 in the most radical unenforced surgery performed on the team by Jones.
Robshaw moves across a makeshift back row from blindside to openside flanker to compensate for the loss of Sam Underhill and Tom Curry to injury.