Twickenham (United Kingdom) (AFP) - Eddie Jones came to the defence of "outstanding" England captain Dylan Hartley on Monday amid growing speculation the hooker could be left out of the British and Irish Lions squad for their upcoming tour of New Zealand.
Lions boss Warren Gatland is due to name his squad on April 19, with the competition to be the starting hooker for the three-Test series against the world champion All Blacks in June and July particularly fierce.
There have long been suggestions that Hartley isn't even Six Nations champions England's best hooker, with many arguing it is only the fact he is captain that prevents Jamie George from being the starting No 2.
Gatland did little for New Zealand-born Hartley's Lions prospects by telling BBC Radio on Sunday: "Dylan's done a really good job but he knows he's under pressure from Jamie George.
"There's also Rory Best, who's done well with Ireland and (Wales's) Ken Owens had a good Six Nations."
One of the initial decisions taken by Jones, who suffered his first defeat as England coach on Saturday when Ireland won 13-9 to deny his side the Grand Slam and a record 19th successive Test win by a major nation, after his Red Rose appointment was to make Hartley captain despite the Northampton front-row's appalling disciplinary record that has seen him miss more than a year of his career in suspensions.
Jones, however, has often replaced Hartley early in the second half of matches, with George coming on in the 53rd minute at Lansdowne Road last weekend.
- 'Super job' -
But it is clear that Jones values Hartley's leadership qualities and he compared him Monday to former England cricket captain Mike Brearley.
For all he was a multiple Ashes-winning skipper and highly regarded for his tactical ability and man-management, Brearley's place in the England side of the late 1970s and early 1980s was often questioned on account of the fact that, although a specialist opening batsman, he never made a Test hundred and had a low average of under 23.
"Dylan is an outstanding captain," Jones told a Twickenham news conference after what was also Hartley's first loss as England skipper.
"Iâm not discussing Lions selection but he is an outstanding captain for us and does a super job.
"Thereâs no reason why he wonât continue to do a super job.
"Itâs like when Mike Brearley captained the England cricket team; everyone questioned him, then he won the Ashes and no one questioned him," added the Australian, a lifelong fan of the summer game.
Meanwhile Jones said his four-year plan to guide England to a second global title at the 2019 World Cup in Japan remained intact despite last weekend's loss.
Jones, coach of the Australia side that beat New Zealand in the semi-finals of the 2003 World Cup eventually won by England, emphasised his point by citing the agonies the reigning champion, the All Blacks, suffered in securing the second of their three global titles in 2011.
"You know what the All Blacks had to go through to win the World Cup in 2011.
"They lost the semi-final against Australia in 2003 and they lost the quarter-final in 2007. They got to the final in 2011 and they had to have a very kind referee to get them home," he added of New Zealand's 8-7 victory over France in Auckland.
"That's how hard it is for them to win. So to lose the Grand Slam game when we've already got the trophy is hardly a scar, it's a learning experience.
"This (Ireland) result doesn't change the plan at all. Did you think we would never get defeated?" Jones said. "Sometimes you're just not good enough.
"We weren't good enough on the day but that's one day."
Saturday's reverse was the third time in the 2000s that England's dreams of a Grand Slam had disappeared with a defeat by Ireland in Dublin but Jones said: "If we play them another 10 times, how many times do you reckon we'd win?
"I reckon we'd win at least six of them."