Former England skipper Martin Johnson says Saints star Dylan Hartley is a guaranteed pick for Eddie Jones’ World Cup squad despite a lack of competitive game-time due to injury.
Hartley has been sidelined with a knee injury since December and, despite being back in training and in contention to play, he missed the chance to return to action for Saints in their Premiership semi-final defeat at Exeter Chiefs last month.
It means that 33-year-old hooker Hartley, who has been an integral part of Jones’ England squad since the Aussie’s appointment, is in a race against time to prove his fitness.
But Johnson, who lifted the World Cup with England in 2003 in Australia, does not see that being an issue for the experienced international.
“It’s a difficult one with Dylan because you never know with these injuries, but I’m really hoping we will see him at the World Cup in the autumn,” said Land Rover ambassador Johnson, who was speaking at this season’s Premiership Final where he met hundreds of youngsters from the national grassroots initiative, the Land Rover Premiership Rugby Cup.
“He’s a vital cog in England’s line-up as a very experienced player.
"If he gets to Japan, it will be his third World Cup and he will desperately want to get there.
“England will be sure to want him because you have to take three hookers.
“I think rugby-wise he would be fine, because he has played so many games in his career.
"When you’re as experienced as he is, you can take a little while out and come back in and be immediately okay.”
England will name a World Cup training squad later this month and Johnson is expecting little in the way of surprise call-ups despite the rumoured inclusion of Gloucester No.10 Danny Cipriani as an emergency scrum-half.
He said: “Will someone come from nowhere to get in the England squad? I doubt it, but you never know.
“There will be players who come in because they have been doing exceptionally or because someone else has an injury, but I don’t see that person being someone who has never been in the England set-up.
“I think Eddie Jones is already quite sure on where he is with his squad, but the players have to make sure they back it up.
“You can’t go into a World Cup camp thinking you are definitely on the plane to Japan, even if you already know you probably are – you have to go and produce the goods.
“Trust is a big word at this point. It’s not only about who Eddie trusts in his squad, it’s also important amongst the players. You need to be lining up against players you trust will perform every time.
“There’s plenty of players who can turn it on now and then, when it’s all going their way, and everyone looks good, but you want the players who are going to perform when you’re 15-10 points down with 10 minutes to go. Who do you believe in then? Who do you trust then, and I think Dylan Hartley is one of those?”
Martin Johnson is a Land Rover ambassador. Land Rover shares and understands the values of rugby. Follow @LandRoverRugby.