Dylan Hartley to captain England in Six Nations
Dylan Hartley will be confirmed as England's captain for their Grand Slam defence on Wednesday after proving his fitness to head coach Eddie Jones.
Hartley has not played since December 3 when he was sent off for striking Sean O'Brien in Northampton's defeat by Leinster, an act resulting in a six-week suspension that ended on the day the reigning champions began their pre-tournament training camp in Portugal.
The offence means Hartley has now accumulated 60 weeks' worth of bans, but his atrocious disciplinary record has not prevented him from being reappointed skipper after leading England to an unbeaten 2016 comprising of 13 Test wins.
Instead of focusing on his latest misdemeanour, Jones' concern has been the conditioning of his first choice hooker ahead of France's visit to Twickenham on February 4, but he is convinced he will be ready having seen him make immediate returns after previous lay-offs.
The pair will attend Wednesday's official RBS 6 Nations launch in south London buoyed by the news that second row and line-out leader George Kruis also expects to be ready for the opener against Guy Noves' men.
Kruis suffered a fractured cheekbone on Christmas Eve and had an outside chance of being available for Saracens' Champions Cup victory over Toulon last Saturday, but it was ultimately decided that was too risky for his comeback.
"It's in the hands of the medics and how I feel. We got a couple of opinions and decided last weekend was too soon. We were pushing for it, but it was just too soon," Kruis said.
"It was a four to six injury. We tried to make it three, so four will be this Friday so it's realistic I'll be up for France.
"I'm not doing full contact yet, I'll build towards that at the end of the week. A week makes a big difference in a four-week injury.
"Fitness-wise I've been able to train fully for three weeks. Sometimes you need some players who are fresh."
England face a substantial challenge to their position as Six Nations champions against France and Kruis insists a hard fought Championship awaits a team who have yet to lose under Jones.
"We're hungrier this time around. We want to be the number one team in the world and to do that we have to win every game," Kruis said.
"It's definitely going to be harder to win this time because teams try and figure you out.
"We've been together for a year and a half and other teams think they've got a grasp of you, so you've always got to stay ahead of the curve. Everyone wants to try and beat the champs.
"For me it's about the players leading it a bit more. Then you get a better grasp of how you want to play and there's a bit more ownership of how you want to do it.
"Then you get the clarity and off the back of that you can own it a bit more and play like you say."