The No.2 Dilemma: Should Jamie George Start Over Dylan Hartley?

When considering the battle between the two England hookers, it is simply worth noting the success the pair have had throughout the Premiership so far this season; Saracens top, Saints in sixth mid-table and Saracens two thumping results over Hartley’s side including the 57-13 rout in the Champions Cup. Jamie George has been inspired, smashing on the door that stands between Dylan Hartley and that number 2 England jersey. His performances thus far capped by his hat-trick for Saracens against Wasps around three weeks ago. But should Jamie George be starting in the England side ahead of Dylan Hartley in the Autumn Internationals?

A crack at the Whip

Despite England coach Eddie Jones well-known love and support for Hartley – a man from his own heart, feisty and combative, vocal and a lead-from-the-front kind of man – it is incredibly difficult to deny George’s position in the squad for the Autumn internationals against Argentina, Australia, and Samoa. Having previously been on the bench for his 17 outings in the white of England, George should be set to be given his deserved start in the number 2 shirt, surely? Just to stoke up the battle for the position, remember when Hartley seemingly headbutted George after a Northampton try against Saracens in 2015?

Granted, Hartley has led a young England squad to great success since Jones’ takeover – winning the Six Nations consecutively, and the grand slam to cap it off –  after captaining the side to 20 wins out of his 21 (a loss to a great Ireland team in March) leading from the front. But Jones’ plans always involved having a galvanising leader from the off, to send a strong message of a reformed England to those involved and boost the talents of the youngsters coming through the ranks. From the stats so far, that certainly worked, but with that strong talent pushing into the starting line-up now and a World Cup in Japan only around the corner, it would seem time to move onto that next stage and let the talent of the likes of George play their leading role.

What they bring to the table

When it comes to natural talent, both players are at the top of their game. But George has a stronger technical ability and a more perfected game than Hartley, just what doesn’t totally sit in the Saracens’ hooker’s favour is his quieter nature in leading that frontline when compared to Northampton’s restored captain. Jones is a well-known admirer of Hartley’s style of play and leadership, but even Jones should be smart enough to know when one of the world’s best (and starter in all three Lions tests against New Zealand over the summer) should be getting his fair crack.

It is believed that George will get his start, at least against Samoa in the final international, but it certainly is time to bring the 27-year-old to the front of the Australian’s plans moving towards 2019. With just shy of a couple of years to build the hooker into the role, it is the perfect time to give the chance to start making the England number 2 his own. The numbers also speak for George’s advances in his game, especially when compared to the current England skipper: Having made 63 metres to Hartley’s 32 so far in this season and 89 percent lineout success to the Saints skipper’s 75 percent.

What about Hartley?

Despite his great service to the side, it certainly wouldn’t mean the end to the vast experience Hartley can bring to the England set-up. His ability and tactical nous when it comes to seeing out the latter stages of games will still be integral to the England side heading towards Japan in two years time.

It would also not be too much of an issue in passing on Hartley’s captaincy in all honesty, with someone in the mould of Owen Farrell looking like he can carry the burden. With control in his play and a very consistent boot, his leadership qualities are certainly on show in the Premiership this year. With his ability to jump around in position and assist in defending – something which this England side is great at – and be vocal in support of his team certainly wouldn’t be a bad shout for the role under Jones.

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