Who should captain England in the Autumn Internationals?

Chris Robshaw

The appointment of Stuart Lancaster as England head coach earlier this year signalled yet another period of transition for the national team, a theme which has been prevalent for England since their Rugby World Cup triumph back in 2003. The side has so far performed admirably given the introduction of new personnel both on and off the field, and one of the highlights has been the leadership that Chris Robshaw brought as captain.

As such, it was a surprise for many that Lancaster refrained from confirming Robshaw as his captain for the upcoming Autumn Internationals last week, albeit stating that the flanker would be ‘strongly considered’. Lancaster listed both fitness and form as possible reasons that could potentially prevent Robshaw from resuming his duties as captain, and placed as much importance on having leaders at key positions such as scrum-half, fly-half and line-out caller.

An important factor for Lancaster to consider is whether or not a healthy Robshaw would even warrant a position in the England back row. This seems ludicrous to say about a player who not only performed so admirably in an England shirt last season, but also led his club side, Harlequins, to an Aviva Premiership trophy, picking up the Aviva Premiership Player of the Year award en route. Returns to form and fitness for both Tom Wood (likely) and Tom Croft (unlikely) could push Robshaw down the pecking order, not to mention the consistently impressive Tom Johnson or physical prowess of James Haskell.

If there is any doubt in Lancaster’s mind that Robshaw is not one of his first choice flankers, then he needs to start seriously considering other names for the role. Hooker Dylan Hartley took over the captaincy for England’s last test in South Africa this summer following an injury to Robshaw, and led England to a draw in Port Elizabeth. He was however sin-binned during the game and his disciplinary history may work against him if Lancaster is looking for a long term candidate for the role.

The England Elite Squad is one of the youngest in recent memory and there does seem to be a lack of leadership credentials in the group. Both Courtney Lawes and Dan Cole now have significant experience in an England shirt, and are certainly the types of players to lead by example, but their lack of experience as captains at club level could play against them. Toby Flood is another name which has been mentioned in relation to the captaincy, but any doubts over Robshaw not starting would surely be even more prevalent with Flood due to the emergence of Owen Farrell as England’s number one fly half.

With Croft unlikely to be able to return to full fitness by the time of the Autumn Internationals, Robshaw’s place in the England side is probably safe for the moment, barring a series of world class performances from either Johnson or Haskell, making him favourite to retain the captaincy.

Robshaw has proven he can replicate his club form when burdened by the responsibilities that come with one of the most demanding roles in international rugby. The Harlequins flanker, if reappointed, will lead England through the Autumn Internationals proficiently whilst Lancaster continues to develop his understanding of his players both on and off the field.

However, if he is reappointed captain, then this is most likely a short-term solution. As gifted a player as Robshaw is, a fully fit and in-form duo of Wood and Croft lay the foundations for a back row which can compete with any in world rugby, and as such, would get my vote for England in the long term. Do not be surprised if we see a new captain come the Six Nations – one who would likely take the team through to the Rugby World Cup in 2015 and beyond.

By Alex Shaw

20 thoughts on “Who should captain England in the Autumn Internationals?

  1. Almost certain it will be Robshaw given that Wood isn’t fully fit yet and doesn’t yet look like taking his place in the team.

    What’s encouraging about Lancaster’s refusal to confirm Robshaw as the captain means that he’s not going to become another Borthwick – forced in to the side at the expense of better players because he’s the captain, and that Lancaster will be picking the skipper on form like the rest of the team.

  2. Can’t see beyond Robshaw given how well he is playing and the lack of other candidates, but agree with Matt H about Borthwick syndrome.

    I have to say that I reckon Robshaw is getting a bit of a raw deal on his contribution to the England side. He may not do so much of the glamorous work, but he really puts in a Richard Hill type shift at the coal face. I wasn’t always a fan of his but have really come round to having him in the team. He’s one of those players that makes the rest of the team better, but you can’t always figure out why.

  3. The question is when will Wood be fit, and can he stay fit. I think at the moment a back row of Johnson, Robshaw and Morgan (or Waldrom) is our best option. Haskell can be good, and can cover all three back row positions, but does give away a lot of penalties.

  4. I strongly believe that right now, Robshaw is the best candidate for captain. Although, if you look back to all the best sides throughout the years, they have a clear captain and leader, McCaw, Martin Johnson etc…

    On that basis would it not be good to at some point soon, not necessarily right not, have someone named as the official England Captain. I understand the Borthwick worries, but surely the benefits of naming someone out weighs the negatives.

    The question posed then is who? I am glad that is SL’s decision and not mine, as I seem to change my mind almost every time I am asked.

    I think today I am going to say Hartley. He is clearly a well respected player and leader within the squad, and he is also one of the only players pretty much guaranteed a starting spot.

  5. I’m naturally biased being a Quins fan, but he has been outstanding for so long now.

    You can’t doubt his leadership abilities either. Look at how Quins played last year, and his never say die attitude is fundamental to how Quins will endeavour to progress further under his captaincy.

    He seems to have the respect of his peers and his coaches alike.

    I think the question is, why wouldn’t you give him the captaincy? Are Wood and Croft better? Possibly but only form will tell.

    I approve with Lancaster’s refusal to confirm the captaincy. He needs to hold things close to his chest and no space in the team should be a gimme, no matter who the player is.

  6. I’d also like to say that Dylan Hartley should be given a bit more consideration than this article gives him. Lancaster certainly seems to be a fan and he’s put his disciplinary record behind him now. Must also point out that the yellow he picked up in SA was technical, rather than for foul play, and largely to do with the whole team repeatedly infringing.

    He’s one of the most experienced captains in the Premiership now, and Saints are half the team without him – plus he’s an absolute nailed-on starter, whereas Robshaw still has to fight for his shirt.

    1. I agree, and I think Hartley’s ‘poor disciplinary record’ is waved against him unfairly at times. And as you say, he’s clearly the number one hooker and that looks set to continue.

      One the other hand, lack of depth in key positions is slightly worrying – a topic for another day!

  7. I am not keen on the England international team (prefer club rugby) but I think that Robshaw is the man for the job at the moment.
    I can’t really think of anyone else in the England squad with the same experience or maturity.

    I wouldn’t even mention Courtney Lawes and Dan Cole for consideration. Toby Flood is not the man for the job either. Hartley has to many discipline issues.

    I don’t know, I don’t think there is an answer.

  8. Id really love to see the evidence of a Croft, Wood combo working better than a Johnson, Robshaw. Why get rid of a guy that leaves everything on the pitch? he plays out of his skin week in week out, the young guys are familiar with him and hes probably the best english 7 at the moment. Havent seen much of steffan this season, last i heard he had got himself in trouble with doping officials. Lawes would be an interesting prospect from captain. I bet hes never taken a backward step in his life.

      1. I tend to see Robshaw as a 7 actually, he tends to play there more regularly and it is therefore more familiar to him.
        I understand he isn’t a natural fetcher….but lets not go into that discussion because I will get nothing done at work today!

    1. Haha oh god don’t! I managed to stop myself from coming on here all afternoon!

      McCaw is a different class, so is Pocock.

      We need to stop trying to mould a player into being one of those two and just understand the abilities and skills of the players that we have. Only then can we put them to full use.

    1. At the moment I would have Burns instead of Flood, but keep Farrell on the bench. Farrell covers the 10 and 12 role better than Flood, as Flood proved the last time he came on at 12 for England. There is no doubt that Flood is a better 10, but if you want someone on the bench to cover both, Farrell is currently the best option. Mainly because he is more solid in defence.
      The idea of an in-form Burns, Barritt and Tuilagi combo is mouthwatering.

  9. I would, but then I’m a Glaws fan. I actually think that until Farrell can do more than tackle and kick, he is probably only a stop gap. Burns’ all round play is better and he has got to be given a chance in the autumn internationals. He might flop, in which case back to Farrell and wait for him to develop or Ford to get some game time. I would have all three of Flood, Burns and Farrell in the squad.

  10. I would love to see Freddie on the bench for the Autumn internationals – he seems to be the best attacking option at 10 for England and has a nice turn of pace and a reliable boot. Toby should start with his experience but should give way after about 50 or 60 minutes or if he has one of his ‘off’ days.

    I like Owen but I just don’t think a solid kick and tackle game is good enough to beat the best international teams. He really needs to develop attack and distribution skills of a high level to get his back line moving.

    With Barritt at inside centre you have limited attacking flair but one of the best defensive centres in Europe. Therefore, you have a safety guard to pick a fly half like Burns who may not be the strongest defensively but has all the attributes to create space and get the ball into the hands of wrecking balls like Manu or speed demons like Mike Brown and Chris Ashton.

  11. Also, I have copied Caveman’s ideal England line up for Autumn as I agree with him completely on every point!

    My starting line up for England’s Autumn internationals based on record, fitness and current form would be:

    1. J.Marler
    2. D. Hartley
    3. D.Cole
    4. G. Robson
    5. C. Lawes
    6. T. Johnson
    7. C. Robshaw
    8. B. Morgan

    9. D. Care
    10. T. Flood
    11. U. Monye
    12. B. Barritt
    13. M. Tuilagi
    14. C. Ashton
    15. M. Brown

    16. D. Wilson
    17. J. Gray
    18. G. Parling
    19. T. Wood
    20. J. Simpson
    21. F. Burns
    22. A. Goode

    I would swap in Alex Corbisero for David Wilson, Tom Croft for Tom Johnson, Ben Youngs for Joe Simpson and Ben Foden for Alex Goode if all were fit and on form and I would have Christian Wade ready and waiting to take Monye’s position if he didn’t perform.

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