Dylan Hartley: England should play Owen Farrell at fly-half for entire World Cup

Dylan Hartley has urged England to install Owen Farrell at fly-half for the entire World Cup and its build up in the belief it will provide reassurance to the team.

Farrell is competing with George Ford and Marcus Smith for the role of chief conductor with the alternative option to pick him at inside centre, operating alongside one of his rivals for the number 10 jersey.

Head coach Steve Borthwick used both Farrell and Smith in the position during the Six Nations, while Ford is back in contention having fallen out of favour under Eddie Jones.

Hartley, who led England to the 2016 Grand Slam, insists his successor as red rose captain should start the Summer Nations Series opener against Wales on Saturday and then be retained, to send out a message.

“I would love for Owen to play at 10 and for Steve Borthwick to make his mind up and go with him for all these opening games,” Hartley told the PA news agency.

“The team ticks when there is certainty and I love the conviction of seeing Owen at 10. If he’s at 10 then it frees up Ollie Lawrence or Manu Tuilagi, or whatever combination there is outside him.

“As the leader, heartbeat of the side and world class player when given the reins, Owen is integral to how England will perform.

“He’s not just the fly-half and goalkicker, he’s everything to that squad. He’s not a young kid any more, he’s a battle-hardened warrior.

Dylan Hartley led England to the 2016 Grand Slam and 2017 Six Nations title

Dylan Hartley led England to the 2016 Grand Slam and 2017 Six Nations title (Adam Davy/PA)

“He’s still matching where he needs to be physically, it’s not like they’re carrying him just for his experience, whereas you’d probably argue I was just there for experience and captaincy instead of performance.

“In that regard you hit a tipping point and my tipping point came pre-30-years-old. Owen ticks all the boxes for me.”

Borthwick has four Tests – Wales’ visit to Twickenham and clashes with Ireland and Fiji complete the schedule – to fine tune England ahead of their seismic opener against Argentina on September 9.

The Principality showdown is the only match to take place before Borthwick names his 33-man World Cup squad on Monday with the management team holding their final selection meeting on Saturday night.

Hartley, who is now exploring coaching consultancy roles, having retired in 2019, believes it is crucial England use the Tests to stitch together a winning run.

“You want to roll these games into the World Cup and win them all. You don’t want to experiment and I’d like to see conviction from the off. Don’t mess around and pick the team you would for a World Cup final,” the former Northampton hooker said.

“Pick a team against Wales to win, not to work on combinations. If you experiment with a player you might learn more about him, but you get more from a winning team. You go through the gears easier when you’re winning.

“Uncertainty can keep environments competitive and honest, but you also need a little bit of comfort.

“Injuries will come, but deal with those retrospectively and go win the games which will build momentum and confidence.”

Rugby is going through a challenging period amid concerns over concussion, its laws, finances and playing numbers, but Hartley believes the coming weeks in France will provide a much-needed lift.

“The game has taken bit of a shoeing but the best of rugby is displayed at rugby World Cups, so it’s timely,” the 97-cap front row said.

Steve Borthwick announces his World Cup on Monday

Steve Borthwick announces his World Cup squad on Monday (Adam Davy/PA)

“You have the underdog stories – the teams you never get to see like Portugal and Chile – that emerge and are hugely positive.

“The game is in a tough place but with the quality of teams and calibre of athlete we’ll see at the World Cup, it will be a great advertisement for the game and we can stop talking about the negative stuff.”

:: All 15 Summer Nations Series matches are available exclusively on Prime Video in the UK.

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