Dylan Hartley: Eddie Jones confident England captain will be fit for the Six Nations
Head coach Eddie Jones says he is confident Dylan Hartley will be ready to captain England in the Six Nations.
Hartley has not played since 9 December, when he was sent off for striking and received a six-week ban.
But the Northampton hooker will have a gruelling series of tests on Wednesday to prove his match fitness before the opener against France on 4 February.
"Dylan has been training the house down, and we expect him to be ready to go," Jones told BBC Radio 5 live.
"He's got a few hurdles he still has to jump, and if he jumps those and jumps them well, he'll be captain of the side."
Hartley is available to play again on 23 January, but is unlikely to feature for Northampton in the Anglo-Welsh Cup the following weekend.
Jones also says the Harlequins prop Joe Marler may return quicker than expected from a broken leg.
It was initially thought Marler would miss between four and six weeks, but Jones has refused to rule him out of the clash with the French.
"His recuperation might be quicker than we think," Jones said. "There is always a chance [he will be fit for France]. There is certainly hope there."
Opportunity to grow the squad
First-choice loose-head prop Mako Vunipola is also injured, but Jones says there is enough back-up in that position.
"[Matt] Mullan has been doing well for Wasps, [Ellis] Genge has been up and down for Leicester but has enormous potential, and Nathan Catt is someone who has been consistently impressive for Bath," Jones continued.
"We've got injuries but that is part and parcel of rugby. We see it as an opportunity to grow the squad."
With Chris Robshaw certain to miss the Six Nations with a shoulder problem, Jones has confirmed he is considering moving Maro Itoje from the second row to fill the void on the blindside flank.
"We have fantastic potential replacements there - Itoje is a candidate for six," Jones said.
"[Teimana] Harrison has been doing well for Northampton, while Tom Wood has been the player of the competition; he's been outstandingly consistent. So we are in good stead."
'Like a racehorse that does trials'
To prove his fitness Hartley will be put through a training session at Northampton, overseen by a member of England's back room staff, that will simulate a game situation.
"He'll do a session that's the equivalent of a game," said Jones. "A game of Test rugby is approximately 36 minutes of ball in play. You have to run around 120 metres per minute, that's the average speed.
"It's old school - run hard, get up, get off the ground, run again. It will give us a very good indication of where Dylan is and his ability to play rugby.
"It's like having a racehorse that does trials - if they run fast in the trials there's a good chance they're going to run fast in the race."
England's Six Nations schedule
4 February - France at home (16:50 GMT)
11 February - Wales away (16:50 GMT)
26 February - Italy at home (15:00 GMT)
11 March - Scotland at home (16:00 GMT)
18 March - Ireland away (17:00 GMT)