Stuart Lancaster admits Dylan Hartley’s track record of imploding in pressure cooker matches was instrumental in his decision to remove the England hooker from his World Cup plans.
The Northampton captain was ruled out of the tournament opener against Fiji on September 18 and the trio of warm-up games preceding it after receiving a four-week suspension for head-butting Jamie George of Saracens in Saturday’s Aviva Premiership semi-final.
Lancaster has reacted by dropping Hartley from his World Cup training squad and, in a twist of fate, replaced him with George – the player he assaulted at Franklin’s Gardens.
So @DylanHartley is out of RWC 2015. A great guy off the pitch, like him a lot, but his on field discipline is too much of a risk, very sad
— Will Carling (@willcarling) May 29, 2015
England’s head coach explained his thinking by highlighting the unacceptable dilemma posed by entering the World Cup with only two available hookers and referencing the difficulty in picking a player whose appalling disciplinary record now totals 54 weeks in bans for a range of offences including gouging and biting.
Every bit as important, however, is the worrying frequency with which Hartley has self-destructed when the stakes are high.
The unprovoked assault on George came two years after he was sent off for swearing at referee Wayne Barnes in the Premiership final at Twickenham, an act that ruled him out of the ensuing British and Irish Lions tour to Australia.
Lower on the scale of severity but adding more compelling evidence of a fragile temperament was the yellow card received for stamping against South Africa last November. A month later he was sent off for elbowing Leicester centre Matt Smith in the face in a fiery East Midlands derby.
“Dylan has let himself down in this big semi-final and he has got to suffer the consequences,” Lancaster said. “Unfortunately the consequences aren’t just for him, although they’re huge for him, but also for the team because he was an important cog in the wheel.
“Dylan is excellent in an awful lot of ways but clearly emotional control and ability to make good decisions under pressure is a key quality in all players. And let’s be fair, the white-hot pressure of a World Cup will be that.”
Hartley is the second established England international ruled out of the World Cup for disciplinary reasons after Manu Tuilagi recently paid the price for assaulting a taxi driver and two female police officers.
Lancaster admits his most capped player, who pleaded guilty to the head-butt at Wednesday’s hearing and chose not to appeal, had an inkling of what was coming.
“Dylan was pretty disappointed, as you can imagine. He was pretty realistic as well, he understood what was coming,” Lancaster said.
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