Is England’s captaincy a bigger problem than the injuries?

Due to England’s current injury crisis there were few surprises when Martin Johnson announced his 32-man squad for the forthcoming autumn series on Monday.

Steve Borthwick

Apart from the uncapped trio of Richard Blaze, Courtney Lawes and veteran David Barnes it is clear Johnson opted for form and experience ahead of any potential left-field picks.

And with England robbed of seven probable starters to face Australia on November 7 it would be easy to overlook arguably the most important selection of all – the captain.

Saracen’s Steve Borthwick has again been given the reins and putting wholesale changes to the squad aside, I can’t help but think Johnson has bottled it and gone for the safe option with his leader.

A captain should be the first name written on the team sheet in a bold, permanent marker. Although Borthwick’s effort is never in doubt, his performances are and regularly so. In the lineout, although not dominant, he is efficient but his work in the loose is questionable and you rarely see him steamrolling into defences as his manager once so often did.

For my money he does not warrant an automatic place in the starting XV let alone be handed the captaincy. If Nick Kennedy continues his all-round development at London Irish and newcomer Lawes impresses, Johnson will have no choice but to drop Borthwick.

The 30-year-old former Bath second row is of the Martin Corry mould – all spark no fire. Perhaps a little harsh but in order to take England forward, Johnson must take a risk and replace the pencil with the ball point to ink in a long-term man at the helm. The captaincy issue arises at the start of every tournament and to date the former Welford Road legend has publicly stood by the man from Carlisle, but surely not for long.

There is however hardly a queue of worthy alternatives and it could be argued that Johnson is making the best of what he has. His decision was probably made for him with the casualty list as long as it was but this should only postpone the inevitable.

Jonny Wilkinson is back but is unlikely to be shortlisted because of his fragile body. Phil Vickery is winding down his career and Tom Rees, although young and able, is not a certainty for the number seven shirt.

A Tiger by the name of Tom Croft ticks the boxes. The 6ft 5in blindside flanker made waves on the Lions tour to South Africa despite being overlooked for the initial squad and has the modern attributes to become world-class. He has been tipped to become the future of English rugby – a future that could very soon become the present.

It remains to be seen how England fare this November. Australia, followed by Argentina and New Zealand is a tough ask for any side never mind one that is severely depleted.

The honeymoon is well and truly over for Johnson, it is time to deliver. These are the moments he would relish as a player and as a leader. Borthwick will feel the same, but it may already be too late.

By Tom Walker

4 thoughts on “Is England’s captaincy a bigger problem than the injuries?

  1. Unfortunately I think there is no one to replace the gentle giant at the moment and so even if Johnno wanted a new captain, he has no choice but to stick with Borthwick. For me its not so much Borthwicks performances but his lack to inspire, motivate and lead the team while on the pitch (especially when things aren’t going are way) that winds me up with him being captain. That said, Saracens are unbeaten so far this season – maybe he’s learnt a few things since the last time he lead England? Think Rees is the future captain, but (definitely at the moment) his name is no certainty on the starting list. Croft is more a follower than a leader. Hartley seems to be doing a good job for northampton. How about Haskell, if he can nail the no. 8 shirt?

  2. Is England’s captaincy a bigger problem than the injuries? Yes.

    But the real problem is not isolated to Borthwick. I reluctantly share Tommy’s view – if you’re going to play him, Borthwick has to be captain (bigger question is whether he should even play). But the bigger issue is that we have no strong leaders at any position. You don’t just need a captain to inspire, motivate, set the right tone and lead by example – you need leadership in many positions. Johnno was a great captain, but he was surrounded (at least in the later years) by many strong leaders, most of whom were automatic selections. We have nobody right now.

    Hartley’s an interesting suggestion. He certainly seems to have the right level of commitment. Will be very interesting to see how he gets on in this series, and this season in this club captaincy role. Not sure I see it in Rees, Haskell or Croft. Johnny might be a worthy contender if he can stay fit.

  3. At the moment we don’t have any other choice but I would prefer giving it to Wilkinson on a temporary baises, if Hartly can nail the 2 shirt which I think after this series he will then i think he is the most likely figure for the next world cup.

    One can not stay in the team to be the captain you have to be a good enough player as well.

    Lawes, Kennedy and Deacon are all good young players, when Shaw is fit he should play to teach the new lads some old tricks plus he is still our best lock.

    But granted for this game with all the injuries and the lack of experience in the pack Borht merits a place, but for the 6N though when Vickery, Sheridan, Shaw are all back the pack has enough experience and we can drop him.


    Johno loves stability and will most probably stay with Borthwick all the way to the world cup, we can only pray for an injurry but that is a bit harsh on such a nice guy.

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