Rugby Union

Martin Johnson has doubts about Dylan Hartley as a captain.

Martin Johnson has doubts over Dylan Hartley's captaincy credentials

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Martin Johnson questions Dylan Hartley's disciplinary record and form when considering his suitability for the England captaincy for the forthcoming RBS 6 Nations.

Hartley is understood to be the preferred choice of head coach Eddie Jones to replace incumbent Chris Robshaw when he announces his Elite Player Squad on Wednesday and bookmakers make him 2-1 favourite for the post alongside Joe Launchbury.

However, the 29-year-old Northampton hooker has been suspended for a total of 54 weeks for a range of offences including biting, gouging and head-butting.

In 2013 he was sent off seconds before half-time of the Aviva Premiership final defeat by Leicester for swearing at referee Wayne Barnes.

Apart from his lengthy rap sheet, Hartley is also only Northampton's second choice hooker behind Mark Haywood and has made just two appearances since returning from a seven-week spell out with concussion.

Johnson, speaking at the announcement of Standard Life as the British and Irish Lions' principal partner, has misgivings over the combative front row.

"Dylan's not getting picked for his club team. I know he had an injury at the weekend, but he was selected on the bench before that," Johnson said.

"Would I have an issue? It doesn't matter what I think. There probably is an issue, isn't there?

"I went to the sin bin a few times, more than a few, but I don't think that I cost our team a game."

Johnson gave Hartley his debut in 2008 when he was manager of England.

"We didn't consider him as captain. There were more experienced contenders. I've not see him operate as a captain or have that sort of responsibility," Johnson said.

"When playing hooker you have enough on your plate anyway with the responsibilities of the job. We didn't want to overburden him with anything at that point."

Leicester centre Manu Tuilagi played his first match for 15 months in Saturday's victory over Northampton after recovering from a groin problem.

Tigers director of rugby Richard Cockerill insists he needs more game time before being picked by England and Johnson agrees.

"You could put him in the squad, couldn't you? You don't have to play him, but he does need to play games because he has been out so long," Johnson said.

"Different people respond differently to being out. He's still a big, strong unit, that's not going to change very quickly. He can make a difference and you need those people.

"I think we need physicality in our back line a little bit as well. I'm sure he Jones will want the opportunity to pick him at some point. He is a guy who can make a difference."

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