Following the Autumn Internationals last year, the captaincy debate was fairly well covered, but since Lewis Moody has been the standout back rower in The Rugby Blog’s England team selection, Andrew Daniel makes the case for Moodos as skipper.
After Martin Johnson announced his revised Elite Squad for the RBS Six Nations, there was one very notable omission, a captain. Our hopes were momentarily raised that Borthwick would finally be asked to step down, and that Simon Shaw and Courtney Lawes could begin to form a master and apprentice partnership in the engine room.
Although Borthwick was named in the squad, he was not initially named as the captain of the team with Johnson preferring to name his leader closer to the championship. Yesterday afternoon though, the RFU slipped a line into one of their Press Office emails stating that Johnno had confirmed that Borthers would wear the armband.
Here at The Rugby Blog, we pick our team first and then decide on the captain – that way, it’s a given that each player deserves his place in the side. We’ll bring you the full results later in the week, but Borthwick is currently the third choice lock behind Shaw and Lawes, who are both clear favourites in terms of votes.
So who should be the captain of the country? The purists may opt for Jonny Wilkinson, the talisman of the England side. That choice would be a leader that will lead with his points, organisation and communication on the field. Let’s not forget that Wilkinson was elected as England captain before the 2004 Autumn Internationals, only for injury to rule him out for the entire series and the following Six Nations.
Other thoughts may be with a player like James Haskell, one for the future to develop into a long standing captain, and have a consistency for years to come but is Haskell’s place in the side certain? The return of Nick Easter together with Tom Croft, who will be available from his latest injury after the games against Wales and Italy, shows that the back row for the first match may not necessarily be the same as the one that finishes the tournament in Paris.
For me there is only one choice. England need a leader that shows his abilities through what he does on the field through passion, commitment and the pride that goes with wearing the red rose on his chest. That man is Lewis Moody.
Moody has been a part of the England setup since 2001 and for a long time was the forgotten man during the back row golden era of Hill, Back and Dallaglio. However, Moody’s efforts in an England shirt have never been doubted and he played a substantial part in the 2003 World Cup win. People forget that he charged down Derick Hougaard’s clearance kick for England’s only try in the group match against South Africa.
More importantly though, his contributions to the Wilkinson drop goal in the final was immense. He firstly pressurised Mat Rogers into skewing his clearance kick into touch, caught the resulting line out and then caught the kick off after the drop goal to seal the victory. All of these incidents epitomise Moody, namely his apparent disregard for his body and his willingness to put his head where others would only dare put their feet.
Admittedly 2003 was a long time ago but Moody has only matured as a player since then. The flanker’s biggest problem has always been that he has let his heart rule his head on the pitch. His discipline record was never the best and an over eagerness at the breakdown has seen a high penalty count against his name for years, sometimes costing England games in the process. You almost felt that Moody was trying to play in the same style of Richie McCaw and Schalk Burger, which is not his natural game and against masters like that there was only ever going to be one winner. Moody isn’t the same sort of player that they are, carrying ball and out-strengthening players at the breakdown is not his forte.
He now plays to his strengths, being the first to a loose ball and showing patience at the breakdown, waiting for the right time to contest a ball and not competing at every opportunity, resulting in a lower personal penalty count. He still charges down at least one kick every test match and there seems to be a constant stream of blood staining his white shirt, but there is cleverness to the Leicester back row’s play now. A skilful tactician on the floor turning over ball that he has no right to even get his hands on whilst he is still a very viable option in the lineout due to his athleticism.
Instead we have Borthwick again. Not certain of his place in the side, not visibly inspirational when the chips are down, not a great leader-by-example, and not ‘one for the future’. I think we could be in for a series of disappointing selections throughout the Six Nations, so perhaps we should just get used it.
By Andrew Daniel