With it looking likely that current England captain Dylan Hartley will be banned for at least some of the Six Nations, Eddie Jones must quickly find a replacement captain for his team when there are no obvious replacements.
We look at five possible candidates and their suitability for filling in for a man who has led England to thirteen victories in a row.
Still only 22 and just seven caps into his blossoming international career, some will see Itoje as too green to take on the responsibility of leading his country. However, for others he is an old head on young shoulders, someone who has taken to test rugby like a duck to water.
Nor is the Saracens lock inexperienced as a leader: he led the England U20s to their second ever Junior World Championship title in 2014 and his club to the LV Cup back in 2015.
Whether Jones will want to risk damaging the development of a player who still has much to work on in his game remains to be seen, but Itoje is certainly one of the favourites for the captaincy in the long-term.
A relatively young player at only 24, Farrell is already 47 caps into his test career and one of the most experienced individuals in the England squad. He has already amassed 540 points for the national side and looks to be an integral part of Eddie Jones’ plans right through to 2019 and beyond.
Yet Farrell is currently in the side at 12, arguably to accommodate friend and rival George Ford at 10, and has been consistent in the position but perhaps not always entirely comfortable. Would it be right to put the responsibility of captaincy on a man who is already out of position and England’s place kicker?
Farrell is one of Jones’ three vice-captains with Mike Brown and Billy Vunipola making up the rest of the triumvirate, so the Australian clearly sees leadership potential in the Saracens man.
Brown has been Jones’ first choice fullback since he took over in January, even if Alex Goode got his opportunity against the Fijians earlier in November. However, the Harlequins man is already 31 and one of the oldest heads in the squad. Whilst he may be entering the twilight years of his international career, he may provide Jones with a good short-term option in terms of captaincy.
Brown has not been able to hit the playing highs he managed a few years ago for his country recently, but has shown some flashes of his old brilliance in this autumn international period. Is it right to name a man who is not in top form as captain for his team? You would usually expect your leader to be one of the first names on the teamsheet, although Dylan Hartley has managed to keep the likes of Jamie George at bay despite some mediocre performances this year.
Additionally, very few fullbacks ever go on to be successful captains for their country, the last for England being Jason Robinson. Could Brown genuinely be a viable option as a leader?
There will be some guffaws at this suggestion, but Robshaw led his country for almost the entirety of Stuart Lancaster’s time in charge – including wins over Australia, New Zealand and every major European nation.
His captaincy was under constant scrutiny given Lancaster’s brave decision to hand the reigns over to the Harlequins flanker in what was just his second cap.
However, with Robshaw now moved back to his natural blindside position, could the player be utilised as a captain once more, at least in the short-term, building on his bank of experiences in the role already?
Jones has already shown he’s willing to look to the past to consolidate the present with such selections as James Haskell and Tom Wood as opensides, but would this be a step too far for the Australian?
Although banned for England’s final two autumn tests after kicking an opponent, the Wasps second row was made his club’s captain for this season and has already guided them to second in the Premiership, and was in impressive form for England when combining with Northampton’s Courtney Lawes.
Could the player become his team’s leader despite not necessarily being at the front of the second row pecking order? If Jones decided to move Itoje to blindside in place of Robshaw it could be a real possibility.
However, the five captains listed above show Jones has a potentially very, very challenging decision to make about who will lead his time into the Six Nations if Hartley is banned.
There are no obvious answers, and the England head coach’s decision here could make or break his quickly developing side in the immediate future.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena
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