England’s Captaincy Conundrum: Robshaw or Wood?

Stuart Lancaster has a fair few selection headaches as we edge ever closer to the first Autumn International at Twickenham in a little under two weeks’ time, but perhaps none is as difficult as selecting his captain. He is expected to announce his decision tomorrow.

The two frontrunners are the incumbent from England’s tour to Argentina, Tom Wood, and the man who has, by and large, done a stirling job for the past couple of years, Chris Robshaw. Geoff Parling of Leicester is another popular option, but it is more likely to be one of the two back-rowers who have experience of the role already.

Wood, of Northampton, has been in excellent form this season and did a brilliant job in Argentina, presenting Lancaster with not only a selection dilemma in terms of the make-up of his back-row, but also in terms of who wears the captaincy armband.

Robshaw has experienced a whirlwind first year in the job, including the high of inflicting New Zealand’s first defeat in 20 games (and only one since then), and the low of that crushing 30-3 defeat to Wales in Cardiff. It is easy to forget that he still only has 19 international caps, and had a solitary one when he was named captain in the first place. The maturity he showed in taking on the captaincy mantle while still so inexperienced was admirable.

Currently, however, one of the biggest issues people seem to have with Robshaw being named as captain is that, if everyone were fit, would he make the team?

This argument seems to centre on the issue of his not being a ‘genuine’ openside, but that only applies if you have a particularly short memory. True, in Cardiff in March England were obliterated by a back-row that was playing on another level. That was, however, a special day, and a performance and intensity level the Welsh will be unlikely to replicate until… well, until they face England again this Six Nations, probably.

People forget that a few months previously, a team and back-row led by Robshaw had done a similar demolition job on a New Zealand side that boasted the best breakdown operator in the world in Richie McCaw, and his able deputies Kieran Read and Liam Messam. That day the England back-row worked in tandem to great effect.

woodThe difference between that England and the one that went down in Wales was the balance of their loose trio – the experiment of Tom Wood at no.8 was not one that even remotely worked. With Morgan or Vunipola there this autumn, there is the chance for Wood to shift back to his more natural blindside role, and Robshaw to play at no.7. Both players fall into the ‘6-and-a-half’ category, neither pure blindsides nor opensides, but in combination they fulfil all the duties of a ‘natural’ or ‘genuine’ openside, and a lot more.

Matt Kvesic’s form has stalled behind a stuttering Gloucester pack and Tom Croft is injured, which makes things in terms of selection a lot simpler. Wood and Robshaw is the right combination for England, but of course it doesn’t really solve the captaincy dilemma. It would be incredibly harsh to take it away from Robshaw after what has been, on the whole, a very successful tenure. Along with Lancaster he has instilled a ‘culture’ (that buzzword that always crops up in these discussions) that has seen England go from a group defined by PR-disasters like drink-driving, dwarf-throwing and ferry-jumping, to become a mature group of players.

We should not forget, though, that originally Lancaster wanted to make Wood his captain, only for a long-term injury to scupper that plan. Of course, Robshaw has done such a fine job in his stead that to call him a ‘stop-gap’ would be doing a gross disservice to the man. It does, however, muddy the waters further. Over to you, Stuart.

By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

18 thoughts on “England’s Captaincy Conundrum: Robshaw or Wood?

  1. Is it a fact that Lancaster originally wanted Tom Wood as captain?

    Or is this just the assumption/considered opinion of the press from back then? I can recall the discussion but whether it was fact or conjecture escapes me.

    1. Before the 2012 6 Nations SL sent Wood to do all the captaincy duties with the media. I believe there are photo’s and interviews they have to do in the weeks before. So it strongly implied that Wood was the captain at that point.

      So not absolute fact, but about as obvious as it would have been without saying it.

      1. Wood had already been ruled out of the first half of the tournament through injury, so sending him was a way of putting off the actual captaincy decision for a few days.

        Doesn’t necessarily mean it wouldn’t have been him anyway of course.

  2. Think Robshaw was a good decision for that point in time, a humble, hard working grafter. It’s what we needed on the back of the RWC shambles.

    I don’t think his decision making under pressure is the best, now seems like a good time to look for an alternative.

    Wood is an excellent choice, my only question mark over him is his durability. I prefer a captain who is rarely injured and always present (like Robshaw), but I guess Robshaw is hardly a bad guy to fall back on if Wood does have another long spell out.

    I like a back row of Wood, Robshaw and Billy V. They all have a massive workrate (something I’ve admired with envy the Welsh and Irish units for). Collectively very few units are going to match that trio for numbers of carries, tackles, rucks hit, etc.

  3. I am a fan of Robshaw but there are just too many question marks hanging over him. Selection, form etc.

    If Wood had not got injured in 2012, was made captain; would we now be having a debate about him? We don’t know for sure but I really doubt it.

    For me Wood is our best back row player, and SL seems to agree. So he has to play no matter who is fit, the same can’t be said for Robshaw.

  4. The main issue with the team in general at the moment is that, of the 15, only Cole, Parling and Lawes are nailed-on starters and more than likely to reach the 2015 RWC. Out of these players, Parling is the only one seemingly having a strong leadership trait, having often captained Leicester.

    1. I must admit I’m surprised you consider Lawes a nailed on starter? He has a fantastic game on Sunday, but are Lawes and Parling “nailed on” with Launchbury and not to mention Attwood around?

      I don’t think having no-one nailed on is that much of a problem, competition is key.

      If you had a “most likely to play if not playing terribly” list; then I’d go with Cole, Corbs, Parling, Wood, B.Youngs and Farrell.

    2. I’m not even sure Lawes is a nailed on starter? Cole and Parling yes, possibly even Farrell, but I think SL likes having Lawes on the bench as an impact sub.

      1. Aren’t Lawes and Parling effectively fighting for the lineout callers spot. I appreciate that this doesn’t mean that you can’t play both, but not sure either are “nailed on”, but then neither is Cole IMO, as I might play Wilson against any of the big scrummaging units and bring Cole on later for impact. And the front row don’t play a whole game any more. I guess it will be Woods.

    3. Lawes a nailed on starter? Are you mad!? Did you forget about Lauchbury and Attwood or something…. Neither of them give away silly penalties.

  5. At the moment I would go for Wood. I know he’s not the Saints captain, but he is clearly a leader among the team, and Robshaw is not on his best form at present with his team not performing too well in any competition. I’m a big fan of picking players on form, and some people can be on form even if their team is not (Yarde for example), but with Robshaw being the team captain for Quins, and them not playing well, I just think he needs time to concentrate on that first. Plus with other options at 6 and 7 I’m not even sure Robshaw will be in the starting 15. I would quite like a back row of Johnson, Wood and Billy V!! Maybe I’m being a little harsh on Robshaw, but I think he’s got enough on his plate without making him England captain as well.

  6. I would go Parling- neutral third option and I think will be a definite starter with either lawes or launch partnering. Just think either robshaw or Wood might take it as a slight if their competitor/back row colleague got the nod, plus too much chance of them losing out next year- Parling keeps everyone happy, and (more importantly) I think he has the ability to inspire and the presence to do the role excellently. Plus he would certainly command the respect and his cameo captaincy in the Lions showed hes up to it.

  7. Parling has his own selection problems with Lawes and Attwood pushing him for his position. True, he is ahead of them, but so are Wood and Robshaw ahead of Kvesic and Fraser.

    The issue is that if Lancaster now dumps Robshaw as his captain it’s very hard to go back to him. I would keep Robshaw in the role for this series and see how the Wood, Robshaw, Vunipola back row goes before deciding whether we need to change it. Robshaw is still growing into the role and I have a feeling he’ll form an effective partnership with Wood, especially with Vunipola’s carrying game from 8. (Assuming Billy gets the nod over the out-of-form Morgan).

  8. “however, a special day, and a performance and intensity level the Welsh will be unlikely to replicate until… well, until they face England again this Six Nations, probably.” – yes, cos beating you is that important… I mean seriously. This was a match where Wales had to win, by more than 7, to hold their title. A title they would win despite a shocking AIs and a shocking first half against Ireland (and lets not forget last summers Aus whitewash). Any team, given the chance at home to redeem themselves but knowing that they need an unlikely result (most top level internationals do not finish with > 7 point difference) would blast out of the blocks. It’s unprecedented in modern pro rugby for us to win two titles on the bounce. It flatters England to think that we only play like that against them but it’s not true, we’ve got bigger fish to fry.

    1. Not sure what you mean by ‘you’… I’m Scottish.

      You can’t deny that Wales have often raised their game against England, and that’s not a criticism in any way – it’s the same with all the most intense rivalries. Just look at NZ v SA.

      Some teams players simply want to beat more than others, unsurprisingly meaning they tend to perform better. Also all reports pointed to an incredible atmosphere that night – do you really think it would have been on that level if it was Italy you had been playing?!

  9. Aye, I know you are Scottish, thought I’d taken out all of the “you’s”. Sorry.

    Not Italy no, but yes, I do think the same for Fra/Ire/Aus/NZ/SA if a title was within reach as they are the sort of teams who would likely be in our way for such a title. No disrespect to Italy (they’ve beaten us often enough to earn our respect) but the way we’re playing now we’d have gone into a title decider against them with great confidence if we needed to win by 7. The very thing about the Eng game was that 7 point diff – it’s a large difference in the context of recent Eng v Wal games where Wales had won.

    The problem with the suggestion that we won’t get up for it like that until we next play England is that it is often turned around (and was back when we won) to be used in the pejorative. You didn’t use it as such but perpetuating the idea that we only get up for “that” game makes us sound small minded when we’re actually having a decent stab at developing into a top-class RWC-competing nation. Minnow teams salivate at their chance for a shot at the big boys, upping their game for that one performance and trying to take a big scalp. We do not see England as a class above us so do not raise our game specifically for them.

  10. Sorry Brighty I must have missed all of Wales’ recent victories over the big 3 Southern hemisphere sides.

  11. Just been announced, it’s Robshaw, really thought that it was Wood’s if I’m honest. Only mentions Autumn Internationals though, so we may still see somebody else during the 6 nations.

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