Stern lecture looms for ‘eye-gouger’

England's Coach Stuart Lancaster
England's Coach Stuart Lancaster
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Stuart Lancaster has pledged to “make it absolutely crystal clear” to Dylan Hartley that any more lapses in discipline could blow England’s Six Nations chances.

Hartley was hit with a three-week ban after being sent off for elbowing Leicester centre Matt Smith in Northampton’s 23-19 Premiership victory on December 20.

The 28-year-old’s latest ban took his career suspension tally to 50 weeks, adding to a rap-sheet including eye-gouging, biting, punching and swearing.

Lancaster will remind Hartley of his responsibilities, especially when England open their Six Nations campaign in the pressure-cooker Millennium Stadium atmosphere against Wales on Friday, February 6.

“Graham Rowntree spoke to him and I’m going to speak to him in the camp,” said Lancaster.

“If you give away dumb penalties clearly it’s going to compromise your chances of winning, particularly against Wales who have Leigh Halfpenny who can kick goals from everywhere. I’ll be making it absolutely crystal clear to Dylan, one to one, but also the team, that discipline has to be top-notch.”

England start the year they host the World Cup by returning to Cardiff for the first time since their record 30-3 defeat to Wales in 2013.

That crushing loss handed Warren Gatland’s men the Six Nations title, and Lancaster is not about to allow indiscipline from hooker Hartley, or anyone else, to derail this season’s campaign.

The England boss had vowed Hartley was in the “last-chance saloon” after his red card for swearing at referee Wayne Barnes during the 2013 Premiership final.

That dismissal led to an 11-week suspension that cost Hartley his place in the British and Irish Lions tour to Australia.

Lancaster was furious with Hartley for conceding a cheap yellow card in England’s 31-28 defeat to South Africa in November, and will not accept any repeat.

“I remember going into the game in Wales two years ago, and through penalties we ended up 9-3 down going into half-time which then extended to 12-3,” said Lancaster.

“And then before you knew it the first try came. I’ll speak to Dylan individually about all that.”

Lancaster named a 34-man Six Nations training squad on Wednesday, bringing both Danny Cipriani and Nick Easter in from the cold.

Bath battering ram Sam Burgess won selection to the England Saxons squad after just 55 days as a professional rugby union star.

Although Burgess will make his Saxons debut against the Irish Wolfhounds on January 30, Lancaster admitted it would be “a big, big step” for the 24-year-old to win a full Test cap in the Six Nations.

“I think it would be a big, big step for Sam Burgess to make a contribution during the Six Nations, if I’m being honest,” said Lancaster.

“The reality is that the selection for the World Cup squad will come down to club form and how players go in the training camp.”

Harlequins number eight Easter is back in an England squad for the first time since the 2011 World Cup.

Easter was among 15 players culled by Lancaster on his appointment in 2012, in a bid to move on from a dispiriting tournament in New Zealand.

Now 36, and after four years in the wilderness, Lancaster believes Easter has the chance to rewrite the final chapter of his 47-cap Test career.

Refusing to rule out Easter facing Wales, Lancaster said: “The last conversation I had with him face to face before I went to see him last week was December 2011.

“We met and had a good chat, going through my thoughts about 2011, the team we were trying to build then and about investing caps in Ben Morgan and Billy Vunipola.

“Who was to say in 2011 that he’d still be playing as well as he is now in 2015? “It was the right decision at the time because now Ben and Billy have 40 caps between them.

“He expressed his absolute desire not to finish his England career on the back of the 2011 World Cup.

“He wanted to come back in and finish the story.

“He’s absolutely convinced me he’ll buy into what we’re about as a group.

“He’s got a job on to get in the team, because we know how well Billy Vunipola’s playing, but you wouldn’t rule him out because of what he’s done since 2011.”