Hartley’s absence could be a blessing in disguise ahead of South Africa tour

Captain Dylan Hartley is one of many England players who will miss the summer tour to South Africa due to injury. However, this could be a blessing in disguise for Eddie Jones’ side as he is now faced with finding new partnerships ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

With 93 international caps, Jones has relied on Hartley ever since he took over as head coach following the disastrous 2015 World Cup series but with the captain now injured there is little international experience to turn to as his replacement hooker.

Apart from Jamie George, there isn’t a stand out hooker that has enough experience or ability to take Hartley’s place which is a growing concern in case George picks up an injury.

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With a minimum of six squad players out of the summer tour, it allows Eddie Jones to give opportunities to young players to showcase their talent ahead of the World Cup which Jones has already started to do by including apprentice players in his recent squads to get them use to the England training regime.

This begs the question whether the Ford, Farrell partnership is still going to be used. Ford has been playing well but recent form has slightly fallen with England and hasn’t been playing the best rugby for Leicester since his arrival. It could be a good idea for Jones to venture out of this partnership and sit Farrell at 10 and Slade and Te’o as centres.

Another issue Jones needs to address is the back row. During the Six Nations, the back row had no fluidity and was very rarely the same back three during all the matches, nevertheless, this was mainly due to injuries but it has recently been a reoccurring problem. Billy Vunipola has been injured again after only one game back and looks doubtful for South Africa. He will be an enormous loss for England and they will need to learn how to adapt without one of their most valued players.

Brad Sheilds who joins Wasps at the start of the new season from New Zealand seems the most likely answer to some of the back-row problems. The Flanker is English qualified but has yet to play a minute of rugby in England, something that is slightly concerning given how different the northern and southern hemispheres can play. Personally, I think that he needs to prove himself in the premiership first before he represents England.

This summer tour will be very interesting as to how Eddie Jones looks to shape the ‘future England’. The players he selected and how they will develop in the next year ahead of the World Cup. Although players will be missing, this summer needs to focus on partnerships that work and can be relied on regardless of who England are playing.

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