Who should captain England in the Autumn Internationals?

Chris Robshaw has led England admirably since being thrust into the role with only one cap to his name, but will Stuart Lancaster stick with him this season?

Chris Robshaw

With the exception of a well-documented bizarre penalty decision against South Africa last autumn he has done little wrong, both as a player and captain, when he has worn England’s white shirt. The Harlequins flanker has been named man of the match on a number of occasions in recent internationals and led his country to some impressive wins, including the famous home victory over the All Blacks.

He does, however, potentially face an uncertain few months ahead, after missing out on selection for the Lions tour and being rested for England’s successful test series in Argentina. England were led by Northampton Saints flanker Tom Wood in Robshaw’s absence and achieved the first clean sweep of victories between the two sides, whilst exposing new back row talent to the international stage in the contrasting shapes of Matt Kvesic and Billy Vunipola. Several of their Lions contingent, including Tom Croft, also performed well in the series win against Australia.

Although Stuart Lancaster has consistently endorsed Robshaw as his on field lieutenant and has picked him to captain the side for all his tests in charge except when injured or rested, he has also refused to give him the job on a permanent basis, choosing to select his Elite England squad and confirm his captain shortly before the subsequent set of international matches.

This means that naming a new skipper will be fairly straight forward, from a political and squad morale perspective.

Robshaw not only faces stiff competition for the captaincy but also for his place in the starting line up. Matt Kvesic, considered to be an out and out openside flanker in the southern hemisphere mould, was outstanding in his debut test against Argentina, recording a monstrous 29 tackles. The former Worcester and England U20s star is certain to be selected in Lancaster’s next Elite squad and his game is sure to improve at Gloucester, as he gets his first taste of Heineken Cup rugby in the company of fellow England back rower Ben Morgan.

Speculation is mounting that Tom Wood will be named by Lancaster as England’s captain for the Autumn Internationals, when the Elite squad is announced on Thursday. But the Northampton blindside also has his work cut out securing a place in the back row ahead of Tom Croft, who now has a third Premiership title to his name and played his part in the Lions series win to add to an impressive rugby CV – just a year after a neck injury threatened to prematurely end his playing career.

Lancaster has the luxury of tinkering with his back row in the autumn and surely needs to test Kvesic against one of The Rugby Championship* giants before next year’s Six Nations. Of those not already mentioned, James Haskell, Calum Clark and Will Fraser could also be named as part of the back row contingent in the next Elite squad.

Who else could captain England against Australia in their opening autumn international? The main prerequisite for the role is clearly that he must be a guaranteed starter. England have depth in several positions but few players are nailed on in the one to fifteen shirts. However, Geoff Parling could be considered one of a select few in this category. He already leads England’s line out and was named as the Lions midweek captain against the Melbourne Rebels, before being pulled out of the clash ahead of the second test following an injury to Irish veteran Paul O’Connell.

Geoff ParlingParling also allegedly tore into his fellow Lions players following the midweek loss to the Brumbies. This did not go unnoticed by Lions management and his leadership credentials were championed by both Lions coach Warren Gatland and captain Sam Warburton during the tour.

Robshaw and Wood are both fine players and will be included in the next England Elite squad but they should fight it out with the other selected back row personnel to secure their places in the England XV. Until they have, and maybe even until the end of 2015, Parling might just be the best captaincy option for Lancaster.

*England face Australia (November 2nd), Argentina (November 9th) and New Zealand (November 16th) in the QBE Autumn Internationals.

By Alastair Pickering

Picture: Patrick Khachfe/Onside Images

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

  1. I think Parling is the best shout really. Robshaw is for my money the best captiancy candidate but I don’t think you can guarantee his place in the side. He really ought to be moving to 6 permanently (something that I believe is going to happen at Quins this season to accommodate Luke Wallace?) and with Croft and Wood to compete with its a real tough call to say whose going to make it (although if Kvesic gets a seasons run at 7 his massive workrate may favour Croft, but that’s just a guess).

    Parling has all the right material (intelligent, pragmatic, leads from the front etc) and he is a nailed on starter in that second row (presumably along with Launchbury).

  2. I would go with Wood or Parling. Parling, along with Cole, Corbs, Tuilagi, and maybe Launchbury are probably the only guaranteed starters currently in the England side, so he makes sense.

    I like Wood though. Very good player, very good leader, and for me has to be in the side somewhere. He plays at 7 a lot for Saints so I wouldn’t mind seeing a back row of him, Croft and Morgan. But Kvesic could go well this season for Gloucester, with Fraser as well. Basically the back row is so competitive I wouldn’t have any of them as captain!

  3. Think Lancaster has to start picking a captain who he can realistically see leading at the 2015 RWC,

  4. This is an interesting dilemma. After watching the Argie test, I would have said Wood should captain the team, and that Robshaw would be a good bench option, as he could cover 6 & 7. But when you throw Croft back in the mix, it makes a huge difference.
    Parling is the stand out choice given that there is the least amount of players competing for his position.

  5. It’s a tough one. I don’t think Robshaw has done a lot wrong and he’s been a decent leader for the team… but. As an individual player – as many others have indicated – he’s not a nailed down best in his position. England is in a good position at the minute of having a lot of choice in a number of positions and a good leadership core so I think they could afford to lose Robshaw at 7 and have a different captain.

    As I say, it’s harsh on Robshaw, but it was also harsh on Wood who appeared to be set to be captain before he was injured and had to take a back seat. What Lancaster really needs to do is start building a good team and select his captain from that, rather than being forced to pick his captain against better players. Parling is an excellent leader and probably a guaranteed player, but all my other choices of captain are a little bit maybe. Probably the next best option would be Tom Wood or Dan Cole then if Ben Foden can get his shirt back he’s a good option too.

  6. Think the blog and posts have covered it really. Pick a team and captain thereafter.

    Having said that………I was dead against Gats picking Warburton over Tips for the Lions based on form but I was proved wrong, so maybe picking a captain first isn’t such a bad idea! Certainly Robshaw hasn’t let England down at all. Parling certainly seemed to grow as an individual on the Lions tour so I don’t think that we would go too far wrong with him (and haven’t all of the RWC winning England teams been captained by a lock (admittedly based on a small sample!!!)).

  7. Bit of a left field choice but what about Launchbury?

    Brilliant player, probably a guaranteed starter, and likely to be a key player in the England side for the next 10-15 years.

    I have absolutely no idea what he is like as a leader mind you. From what I can tell he goes about his business quietly, but so did Martin Johnson and from what I heard he was a pretty decent captain.

    1. as much as i would love launchers to be the england captain. that is way too much, and way too early.

      he isnt a bad captain (played against him at school level, we were opposing skippers. also played with him at club, and i was the captain over him). Joe is an excellent player, no doubt about it, but i dont think he quite holds the aura that someone like Johnson or Dallaglio had, yet.

      you have to have a captain who has a certain level of authority about them. i dont think that one of the “fresh faces” (and i use that more in terms of fresh to professional rugby, not england) is the best choice.

  8. The 2 best performances by England over the last season were against the ABs and Scotland. These performances were built around the excellent back row combination of 6. Wood 7. Robshaw and 8. Morgan. England’s pack lost its balance when these three were broken up and Robshaw was forced to do Morgan’s job of covering kicks and wasn’t able to be making front line tackles/turnovers. Also Robshaw got 2 MOTM awards in the 6 nations! THIS IS THE BACK ROW TO TAKE US FORWARD! Robshaw should have been on the lions tour ahead of Lydiate, Croft and probably Warburton and Tipuric.

    1. You make a good point about that back row performing the best for us, I would be tempted to go with that one in the AI’s with Kvesic on the bench to work him in. Play Wood and Robshaw as a Lef tand Right a la SA?

      Think he will go Wood, but should go Parling, and just see who really kicks on back-row wise in the 1st quarter of the season.

      1. SA dont play left and right. they play the 7 and 6 the other way round to us.

        Francois Louw packs down on the openside but wears 7. so does Brussow. hence why you will only see Willem Alberts wear 7, and not 6.

    2. Agree with this, whilst I wouldn’t say that Robshaw is the best back row player in the NH, him, morgan and wood are definitely a balanced back line and I see no reason to change it. And if Robshaw is playing, then he should be captain.

  9. Left wing , you make a great point re the balance of the BR and whether we need a true 7.That’s the dilemma confronting the coach.Robshaw would be hard done by, however Parling is a more definite starter.He could get round this by making Robshaw “Team Captain” in the same way as many clubs elect a “Club Captain”, so allowing flexibility in matchday selection.

  10. dont think england can have a “club captain” it doesnt work that way for international rugby.

    they need to select the best XV, then select the captain from that.

    the really big positive for england is that they have a great selection of leaders.

    Robshaw, Wood, Parling, Hartley, Cole, Foden, Flood, Ben Youngs, Croft, Webber. Even if they arent all starters, they are experienced players with great leadership skills.
    in ’03 england had a squad with the likes of Thompson, Vickery, Johnson, Hill, Back, Dallaglio, Dawson, Wilkinson, Catt, Tindall, Greenwood and Robinson. All of these guys were excellent leaders, and most lead their clubs (and a few had/have lead england).
    that is the type of setup that england need to look for going into RWC 2015.

    pick your best team first, i am sure that at least one of the leadership group will make it into the team. then pick the skipper from that team. as long as you have good players (and leaders) around you, captaincy is one of the easier jobs on a rugby field.

  11. Seriously!?

    Robshaw for my money is the best captain we’ve had since Johnson. Leads by example and is also the best back row forward we’ve got. He should DEFINITELY be starting (at 6 or 7 – up to SL) and should DEFINITELY be captain.

    I reckon anyway.

  12. A captain needs to be picked, I don’t agree with changing the captain from game to game because he isn’t always in the side. That’s why I’d go Parling or Wood. Best back row player and best lock. Both will play if fit. Personally I’d go Parling but happy with either.

    Every World Cup winning side (which must be our aim right!?), has had a clear captain that has demanded respect not just from his own side, but from the opposing sides. Having a captain go up against McCaws, Horwills etc., who wasn’t even in the side last week doesn’t demand respect.

  13. Strongest back rows
    A.If we want to play total rugby ie short, wide, kick&control, we need a 7,=Kvesic, L.O.man at. 6=Croft, Morgan 8, so Parling captain
    B.If SL decides on a safer, traditional english safety first strategy, ie narrow, kick&control, we don’t need specialist 7 , thus allowing teams to have the edge when attacking wide, Robshaw, Morgan 8, Wood 6, as ,off the back LO ball not as crucial, so Robshaw captain.
    All depends on what strategy we want to develop leading up to RWC2015.

    1. I don’t think we should have one strategy; we would ideally be able to do both. That’s why I would pick Parling as captain, because he can captain the side whether we can’t to play a tight game, a fast wide game. Bare in mind the decision on what game plan we play could be dependent on many things like weather or even opposition.

      1. Exactly Jacob,that’s option A.. ”Total Rugby”.Therefore Parling has to be captain,unless Robshaw proves a better 6 than Wood or Croft- as Simo suggests- during the first half of the season,but that will be for the 6 nations,after that I feel it’s too late.

  14. the best thing about this is the depth england have in the backrow right now.

    Wood, Croft, Haskell, Clarke, Johnson are all options at 6. (Obviously Robshaw is an option here too)
    Robshaw, Kvesic, Fraser and Luke Wallace are all options at 7 going forward.
    Morgan and Vunipola are the standout 8’s. I think Haskell should shift to 8 as cover for these two – it will be better for both England and himself if he is 3rd choice 8 (if Robshaw moves to 6, then Haskell would be 4th choice 6 at best)

    England are beginning to create some real depth which is excellent. (could comfortably name 3 players in almost every position who could do a good job).

    on the note of Robshaw as england skipper. I think that this question has come about because he is a doubt at 7. By the sounds of things he will be shifting to 6 for Quins to allow Wallace to play more. Combine that with Kvesic being outstanding in South America, and Robbo looks to be a less convincing option at 7. He could make himself the no1 6, he is definitely good enough, but i think Wood has to hold that mantle at the moment.

    I dont mind having a little bit of change with the skipper (as long as the 1-3 names are very clear who the leaders are). Injuries happen, so sharing the load a bit will be positive for people. The important thing is for the squad to know who all the leaders are, so that all of them command respect.
    I agree that an intimidating captain is a big plus, but right now england need to find a few intimidating characters first. if the captain is one, then great. if he isnt, then thats not a problem, as long as he leads well and commands the respect of his players.

  15. With Croft, Wood, Robshaw and Kvesic there’s so much talent in the back row that it creates a genuinely troubling dilemma for selection alone, never mind captaincy. A dilemma I’m glad I don’t have to solve.
    It’s hard to resist Robshaw’s excellent leadership skills but it’s also hard to ignore the fact that against some teams, a different strategy and thus a differently balanced back row may have to be implemented.
    For that reason; a lot of people would probably choose Parling. But just because a player has captaincy qualities does not mean they can handle being captain. If I recall correctly; Heaslip’s drop in form was coincidentally around the same time he was given the armband from BOD.
    Robshaw however is a proven captain, which is why I think he and Parling are the frontrunners. But I’m not going to give myself a headache trying to pick one. That’s Stu’s job.

  16. Wow. People have short memories. A fit and in form Robshaw would be hands down my Captain. Wood, Robshaw and Morgan, if fit and in form is still a great combination. Wood, Kvesic and Morgan too. Or Robshaw, Kvesic and Morgan. Let’s see how they start the new season and then decide (which smartly is what SL wants to do). Very premature to write of Robshaw, especially after the lions “snub”. His failure at making the cut of the 2011 WC kick started 18 months of great club and international form. Maybe this will do the same.

    1. I don’t think anyone is saying disregard Robshaw. But a captain needs to be on the pitch and there’s no guarantee that he will be, in fact, some might even say it is unlikely. I would be surprised if we don’t see Croft back in, at least on the bench. Personally I think Robshaw is a very good player, but Wood and Croft are slightly better. I’d have Robshaw on the bench because he covers 6,7, and even 8.

      1. But why is everyone assuming that Robshaw will be the one lacking form come the AIs? I think he and Wood are very similar players in that they can play both 6 & 7. Assuming Kvesic is the real deal (and that is far from sealed) – who’s to say Wood isn’t expendable?

        1. IMO, and many others, Wood is more valuable than Robshaw. Hence the way round people are discussing it. Lets not forget Wood would have been England captain if it wasn’t for his foot injury.

  17. While i think Wood and Croft are great 6s, i believe Robshaw to be better than them both. Hasn’t he won more MOM awards than the others combined?

  18. Sorry Benjit, I disagree.Robshaw was never my 1st choice, Wood was.However I agree he’s been a good captain, without being a great player.Johnson and McBride were great captains and great players..Lions won.Warburton great player, when on form, had a great 2nd test as player and captain, but ultimately will not go down as a great 2013 Lions captain, despite their success.
    My point is, Robshaw has never been a first choice player, despite his heroics as both player and captain.Tricky decisions have to be made, Warburton has proved the captain is not the be all and end all, if your squad is strong and you have leaders such as AWJ, who can step up as he did for the lions.Robshaw “team england” club captain would give Stuart flexibility, otherwise Parling or A.N.Other first choice pick, with captaincy ability ! Tom Youngs ??????

    1. Robshaw has been a stand out player for Eng. Do you even watch the matches. I’m a big Wood fan but Robshaw is everywhere. Numerous mom awards. Tackles, carries, links and is great at the kick off. One of the few players to have held their own in the Cardiff capitulation.

      1. I watch the mates. He won MOM against Ireland because of a great pack effort – he is captain and obvious choice (don’t get me wrong he played well, but I’m sure you see my point). Yes he is a very good player, but doing things Wood can’t do? Absolutely not. Wood won MOM against NZ lets not forget. I’m by no means a Robshaw hater, he is a very good player, but is a maybe to actually get in the back row, that’s not debatable.

  19. There is a lot of hype surrounding Matt Kvesic. Sure he played well against Argentina, but they fielded a weakened team. I can’t help think that some are setting Kvesic up to fail. We need to see more from Kvesic before casting aside Robshaw.

    Call me conservative, but I have a hard time justifying replacing a player who has proven to be a good international player for a player who has not (at least, at this moment).

    Wood for Robshaw at 7 is a different matter, but then we get into the old argument of whether England needs a “genuine openside.” England’s captain should be either Robshaw or Wood.

  20. I would love Robshaw to be seen as 1st choice 6 or7 , but that’s still the dilemma.If he does fine, he’s captain too.Try to watch all England, go to at least one away 6 nations, wales or scotland and one home.Also always watch on Tv, then spend hours on pause, rewind and play….mind you after few beers it can get messy benjit !

  21. I have a sneaky feeling that perhaps post 2015, Dave Attwood will be the new captain. Tremendous leader.

    1. Not so sure. Bare in mind he is five years older than Launchbury, Lawes is still around. He needs a lot of development to even become a starter, then he can become a leader.

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