Rugby World Cup betting: Hartley needs the axe and not another chat

Off! Dylan Hartley hasn't learned his lesson about discipline
Off! Dylan Hartley hasn't learned his lesson about discipline

England's head coach Stuart Lancaster began the New Year promising to talk to hooker Dylan Hartley about his behaviour. Ralph Ellis says it's too late and that he needs to look elsewhere...

"England should have good chances to win the World Cup on home soil, but this is yet another example of the woolly thinking by their coach that makes it impossible to understand why they are as short as 5.85/1 second favourites."

Many years ago I sat down to do an interview with a footballer who had a long and not very impressive disciplinary record. Sent off several times and booked several zillion, he'd also been involved in all sorts of brushes with trouble off the field.

It was a heart-warming chat, done around Christmas time, and it was going to make a really positive piece for my paper to set a tone for the new year. He'd realised the error of his ways, he'd been influenced by one of the senior pros to be far more professional in his training. He was now a dad, he told me, and that had changed his whole outlook on life.

I wished him well, went away and wrote the words, and thought how sincere he was in his new good intentions. Next morning, as I was on the way to pick up my papers to see how the production people had laid it all out, the local radio station was on in the car. My player had been held by the police after smashing a shop window in a drunken spree in the early hours of the morning.

I thought of that as I read Stuart Lancaster's promise this morning to "have a good chat" with Dylan Hartley. The England hooker is currently serving a three week ban for smacking Leicester's Matt Smith with his elbow - the fifth suspension of the 28-year-old's career - and Lancaster is understandably concerned.

"He knows as much as anyone the importance of on-field discipline," said the coach who is charged with trying to win a World Cup on home soil this year. "I will have a conversation with him at the right time."

The truth is that he can have as many conversations as he likes, but Hartley's record says the red mist will descend at some time and going into a World Cup that makes him a liability. He needs to be dropped, not given another cosy chat.

Yes, Hartley is probably the best in his position, but not if he's sat in the stands after getting a red card, or even in the sin bin after a yellow, and England are having to cling on with 14 men. And it is not as if he hasn't had a final warning. He missed going on the last Lions tour after getting an 11 week ban for abusing a match official. If that wasn't a wake-up call about his behaviour, then what would be?

England should have good chances to win the World Cup on home soil, but this is yet another example of the woolly thinking by their coach that makes it impossible to understand why they are as short as 5.85/1 second favourites.

The Autumn international series was a huge let down and only exposed that Lancaster is a long way from having a settled side. And the fact that we're heading towards the RBS Six Nations with his hopes apparently being increasingly pinned on the arrival of Sam Burgess makes it just as difficult to see why the market makes England 2.77/4 favourites for that tournament.

Burgess is a fantastic talent, but still learning his trade in the reserves at Bath after crossing codes. If his club aren't ready to trust him as a regular first team starter yet, then why should we expect him to start blossoming by February? And if he isn't ready to play international rugby union by then, how can he be thrown into a World Cup for his first real experience of it?

Lancaster should be streamlining his side by now, instead he seems to be blindly hoping for the best.

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