England should stick with Saints skipper Hartley, says Smit

Dylan Hartley is Saints and England captain (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
Dylan Hartley is Saints and England captain (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

Jamie George may have impressed on the Lions tour this summer - but 2007 World Cup-winning captain John Smit believes Eddie Jones should stick with Saints star Dylan Hartley as his starting England hooker.

George started all three Tests as the Lions secured a memorable 1-1 series draw with the All Blacks but he has still only ever appeared as a replacement in 17 games for his country, with skipper Hartley locking down the No.2 shirt.

Hartley has led England to back-to-back Six Nations titles – including a Grand Slam in 2016 – in the Jones era.

And Smit – who skippered South Africa to glory in the 2007 World Cup in France – insists the Red Rose coach would be better off staying with the 31-year-old ahead of the man five years his junior.

“I think if you were Eddie Jones you’d realise that things are working pretty well,” explained Smit. “Dylan’s done a pretty good job as captain and you probably wouldn’t want to mess with that too much.

“There is, I guess, a natural order of things where Dylan is older than Jamie so you know there is going to come a time where the natural progression of age takes place.

“But I’m pretty sure that every Test that Jamie spends on the bench he’s been given a good opportunity – he’s playing between 25-35 minutes at a time and he’s learning from a guy that’s also a captain.

“None of this will go to waste for Jamie.”

With Hartley at the helm, Smit claims England are still the team to beat in the northern hemisphere as they head into the autumn internationals before going for a hat-trick of Six Nations titles next spring.

And the 39-year-old is keen to see the Red Rose square off against the All Blacks in the not too distant future.

“It’s been an incredibly impressive season-and-a-half – their results are proof that something is going right, they play a very competitive type of game and it’s going to take some beating,” added Smit.

“I think they’re biggest disappointment is they haven’t had an opportunity to play against the All Blacks since being at the top, so hopefully that will come soon.”

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