Following England’s wretched autumn campaign, we set up a poll asking who you, the readers, would like to see dethrone Steve Borthwick and help lead England back to the top of world rugby.
For the last three weeks you have been casting your votes and with over 220 responses, the captaincy is clearly a contentious issue.
Here we take a look at the top five candidates and assess their credentials.
1st place, Lewis Moody – 44%, 99 votes
Moody, better known as ‘Mad dog’ for his unrelenting desire and apparent fearless pursuit of pain, received over three times the number of votes than his nearest rival – Dylan Hartley. The Leicester No7, whose preferred position is blindside flanker, returned to the England fold after nine months out with injury and was arguably their best player this autumn. While retaining his huge appetite for the ball he seems to have curbed the habit of giving away needless penalties at the breakdown and at the ripe old age of 31, he may be the best option for Martin Johnson. Although he does not captain his club he has the international experience (53 caps) to call upon to inspire others. His enthusiasm and energy alone may be enough to carry his team-mates with him, injuries permitting?
2nd place, Dylan Hartley – 13%, 30 votes
The New Zealand-born hooker, 23, has been tipped to star for England since he burst onto the scene with Worcester Warriors. He has all the attributes to become a world-class hooker but his aggressive tendencies are a massive flaw – how could Johnno pick a captain who has the capacity not to last the game through ill-discipline? To date he has 11 England caps and if he can learn to control his emotions he may well lead his country, but for now let him learn his trade as captain of Northampton. Hartley showed glimpses of class over the autumn and at least he had the ambition and ‘go-forward’ so many others in the team lacked.
3rd place, Steve Borthwick – 12%, 27 votes
So much has been said and written about the Saracens captain that I am a little surprised he came third in the poll. For me, he simply should not be in the team, as a captain or a player. Harsh? Well, the outspoken Jeremy Guscott backs me up, saying, “Steve has proven himself to be a good captain but in the international arena I truly believe he’s struggled to impose himself, both as a player and as a captain.” Looking back at some of your replies the word ‘consistency’ kept cropping up regarding Borthwick. If you mean consistently poor then fine but he is keeping better players out of the team – Lawes and Kennedy for example. But on the other hand, he finished third so he obviously has his fans. His line-out work is exemplary and Saracens aren’t doing bad under his leadership, though leading a successful team is one thing, pulling one in a new direction is another.
4th place, Nick Easter – 11%, 24 votes
Once labelled a ‘deckchair salesman’ by Guscott – the 31-year-old No8 was a stand-out performer in Quins’ Heineken Cup loss to Sale. But while he produces stellar performances at club level he far too easily becomes anonymous at the dizzy heights of international rugby. Not all of his England appearances have been an anti-climax. He became the first No8 to score four tries in one match and was named man-of-the-match against France in 2008. One outing in 2008 – not exactly bulldozing his way through Johnson’s door to be captain is he?
5th place, Jonny Wilkinson – 9%, 20 votes
Wilko was named England captain in October 2004 but was ruled out of the following autumn internationals with a haematoma in his right bicep. Injuries have robbed him of the chance to add to his 71 caps but he remains an important figure in the side but this November, perhaps more than at any other time, highlighted why he should not be given the ‘armband’. For Toulon he has rolled back the years, standing flat and dictating play by releasing his outside backs. And although he defended heroically against New Zealand, Australia and Argentina, he failed to deliver in attack. For the moment his injuries appear behind him but why burden him with the added pressure of the captaincy when he has only just returned to the setup? With his form wavering below its best his place in the side is not assured despite his worldwide status – just look at Ronan O’Gara.
I would go with Moody, but when Tom Rees regains his full fitness and form, the battle for that No7 shirt may just throw a spanner in the works.
by Tom Walker