Hartley in spotlight for record-chasing England

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England captain Dylan Hartley (R) faces competition for his place from fellow hooker Jamie George (AFP Photo/GLYN KIRK)
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London (AFP) - England captain Dylan Hartley will have a point to prove when the champions face Italy in the Six Nations at Twickenham on Sunday.

It says something about England's strength in depth that the hooker's position is up for debate.

England are on a run of 16 successive Test victories and another win on Sunday would take them to within one of world champions New Zealand's record of 18 straight wins by a leading or tier one rugby union nation.

Given that England, who have won all 22 of their previous Tests against Italy, face an Azzurri side thrashed 63-10 by Ireland last time out it's easy to see why they are such overwhelming favourites.

Yet Hartley is under some pressure after England coach Eddie Jones took him off just 46 minutes into a 21-16 win away to Wales in Cardiff earlier this month in a match where reserve hooker Jamie George once more impressed off the bench

But having taken the bold decision to make Hartley -- who has missed more than a year of his career through suspension -- his captain when appointed coach after England's first-round exit on home soil at the 2015 World Cup, Jones is not ready to jettison the skipper who has helped him chalk up 15 straight wins that included last year's Grand Slam.

- 'Never worked harder' -

"There was never any debate whether Dylan would be captain or whether he would start the game (against Italy)," said Jones after announcing his team on Friday.

"We're really happy with the way Dylan's going. He's training hard, working hard -- probably never worked harder in his life," the Australian added.

Meanwhile Jones insisted George, all of whose 14 caps have come off the bench, would get his chance to start in time.

The avid cricket fan contrasted the likely length of Hartley's career with that of England opening batsman Alastair Cook, who visited the squad on Friday.

Cook recently resigned as Test captain but intends to play on and add to his 140 appearances.

"Dylan can't play until he is 50. It's not like Alastair Cook. We had Cook come into training today (Friday) and he's played 140 Tests. You don't play 140 Tests at hooker because rugby is a lot more exacting."

Jones has made four changes to the side that beat Wales, with Ben Te'o given a first start at centre and Danny Care in at scrum-half in place of the benched Ben Youngs.

England centre Owen Farrell is set to lead the team out when he wins his 50th cap this weekend.

Italy arrive at Twickenham with their rugby pride at stake after coach Conor O'Shea, a former Ireland fullback, saw his compatriots run riot in Rome.

Six Nations chief executive John Feehan all but assured Italy of their continuing place in the tournament when he ruled out promotion and relegation earlier this week, despite Georgia knocking on the door.

But only a much-improved Italy performance will silence their critics.

"If someone says you are really bad at your job, and everyone else then keeps telling you that, then it's in your head," O'Shea told The Times.

O'Shea has also made four changes to his side, with inform Exeter centre Michele Campagnaro in the backs and South African-born flanker Braam Steyn in the pack.

Steyn urged Italy to keep faith with O'Shea, who in November guided the Azzurri to their maiden victory over the Springboks.

"The journey we've started with Conor is not easy but we have the right motivation to continue along the path we've begun under him," Steyn told www.federugby.