Amidst the current uncertainty engulfing English rugby, both at domestic and international level, is the decision concerning the captaincy. Chris Robshaw has received significant criticism since his side’s 33-13 defeat to Australia, much of it undeserved, but the flanker’s stint as captain is surely over.
If nothing else, this World Cup has surely highlighted the paramount importance of possessing a genuine open-side flanker. Sir Ian McGeechan wrote in The Daily Telegraph last week that possessing a conventional seven alongside a six and a half, must be the bare minimum at international level.
Robshaw is an international quality player, but a conventional ‘fetcher’ he is not, and any future for him in the white shirt has to be in competition with Tom Wood at blind-side.
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With the Calcutta Cup opener just over three months away, a new leader needs to be identified. Different candidates have been put forward, with Joe Launchbury a seemingly popular choice. The Wasps lock, considering the rapid emergence of Maro Itoje and the fact that Courtney Lawes is still only 26, is still uncertain of his place, and must build upon his world-class performance against Australia to reaffirm his credentials.
Itoje an outstanding prospect
Itoje himself has been mooted amidst calls to reattempt the Will Carling experiment, but at just 20-years-old he has only one full season of domestic experience to call upon. An outstanding prospect and future leader he may be, but the Saracens forward must be allowed to progress in the England ranks, first and foremost as a player worthy of his place.
Behind the scrum, few players have the experience to be a viable captain, however, one who does is Mike Brown. Tempestuous the full-back may be, but crucially he remains sure of his place, following two years of consistently outstanding international form, and at 30, an experienced figure with some international miles remaining.
Brown’s reliability as a player makes him a better option than scrum-half Ben Youngs. Despite his experience from 54 international caps for England and the Lions and his role as club captain of Leicester, Youngs would represent an underwhelming appointment. The scrum-half’s form continually wavers; at his best he is a perennial threat around the fringes, whereas when off form, as he was in the World Cup opener against Fiji, an air of indifference can characterise Young’s game.
Brown a popular choice
Following their first group-stage exit from a Rugby World Cup, England mustn’t waste all of Lancaster’s valuable work in connecting the English public with its national rugby team. Brown, as a passionate and unflinching figure, would be a popular choice and though his confrontational style wouldn’t be ideal in the pressure cooker environment of a World Cup, he would be likely to inspire his fellow players.
Brown is not the long-term option, though, he may make the next World Cup. Anthony Watson, arguably England’s biggest positive from this dismal campaign, will in all likelihood assume the starting 15 shirt within two years, whilst Launchbury’s impressive composure and leadership credentials will grow as he gains experience.
Appointing a long-term candidate for Japan 2019 would be an ideal scenario. However, whilst Launchbury and Itoje continue to emerge and Wood, Robshaw, Owen Farrell and George Ford all continue to battle for the blind-side and fly-half roles respectively, Brown represents the best immediate bet.
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