England head coach Eddie Jones's selection plans for the forthcoming summer tour of Australia have been significantly boosted by the likely return of Dylan Hartley following a bout of concussion. The New Zealand-born hooker was appointed as successor to former captain Chris Robshaw in January and defied criticisms over a woeful disciplinary record to lead his side to their first Six Nations Grand Slam success since 2003.
That achievement came at a cost, however, with Hartley accidentally knocked unconscious by the knee of replacement prop Uini Atonio during the 68th minute of a pivotal 31-21 victory over France in Paris. The 30-year old has not played at all since then, although is finally expected to make his comeback after seven weeks on Saturday (7 May) as Northampton Saints, who can no longer qualify for the Aviva Premiership play-offs with one match remaining, travel to Kingsholm in Gloucester looking to secure a second consecutive victory that would see Jim Mallinder's team book their place in next season's European Champions Cup.
"He's done a full week and has been going through the return-to-play protocols," coach Alan Dickens was quoted as saying by BBC Sport. "He's bouncing around the place and back to his usual self."
If Hartley returns unscathed, then Northampton's absence from the Premiership final at Twickenham on 28 May means that he will be in a position to play for England against Wales at the same venue one day later.
Jones has already confirmed that he is very likely to continue as skipper for England's three-Test series down under next month and spoke positively regarding rugby's impressive work to combat the issue of concussion.
"The medical reporting system is very good between the clubs and the Rugby Union," Jones told reporters last month. "We know when we think he could be available, which is going to be towards the end of the season. I reckon one of the great things about rugby is that it's taking a proactive stand on concussion.
"The way the players are looked after now is absolutely first class. The thing we know at the moment is that Dylan is getting first-class medical treatment on his concussion and he will only come back to play when he's ready to play. You'll have to speak to Northampton about the exact date, but we are expecting him to play before the end of the season. And we're expecting him to be right for Wales."