Eddie Jones has been a busy boy. He’s been speaking to the media, lining up coaches, and looks likely to sack Chris Robshaw as captain in the near future. Happy Christmas, Chris.
However for all his faults – and I’m afraid I’ve never been the Harlequins flanker’s biggest fan – there isn’t exactly a surfeit of obvious contenders to take over the job. Call it ‘Alastair Cook disease’ if you like.
Because there’s nobody obvious to fill Robshaw’s six-and-a-half sized boots, there’s been a bit of silly talk in the media. For example, Stuart Barnes has suggested that Maro Itoje should step into the role. That would be a huge ask.
Itoje is a superb prospect – perhaps the best young lock we’ve produced in twenty years – but he’s just 21 years old, has only made 24 senior appearances for Sarries, and hasn’t even made his full England debut yet. He’s just a whippersnapper.
But Itoje isn’t the daftest name being bandied around. There’s been some chat that Eddie Jones is a big Dylan Hartley fan, and that Hartley the headcase might become skipper. Can you really see this happening?
Nobody denies that naughty Dylan, or perhaps I should say Darth Dylan given his penchant for punching people and calling the referee a ‘cheat’, is a very good hooker. But how can he lead by example from the sin bin? Hartley is notoriously easy to wind up. It seems a tad naïve to think that giving him the England captaincy would suddenly make him grow up.
However, there are problems with most of the so called leading candidates, especially if one believes, like Brian O’Driscoll, that it’s incredibly hard to skipper a team if you wear a number higher than 10. Backs are often too far away from the action. And England’s backs are all quite wet behind the ears too.
The conservative choice would be Tom Wood, who could / should have got the job when Robshaw was appointed. Wood is a decent leader, a good player, and wouldn’t let England down. But he isn’t necessarily a sexy choice. One could argue that he isn’t necessarily an automatic pick either. Wood rarely plays badly but he’s rarely man of the match.
In this observer’s opinion, I would go probably go for Joe Launchury. He’s young (but not inexperienced), he’s an automatic pick when fit, and he could blossom into one of the best forwards in the world. Basically he ticks a lot of boxes.
Launchbury isn’t exactly a tubthumber but he has potential as a leader. He’s a hard worker, is rarely in trouble, and his teammates listen when he talks. His club coach, Dai Young, has likened him to Martin Johnson: a man of relatively few words … but when he talks it’s definitely worth hearing.
In some ways, Launchbury could become England’s version of Sam Warburton – an inspirational figure whose steely determination, good decision making, and prowess as a player makes up for a perceived lack of charisma. Sometimes captains need to grow into the role. I’d certainly go for Launchbury ahead of Dylan Hartley anyway.
I’m not one of those people who think that England captains should be whiter than white, but a shade lighter than black is surely preferable. Dylan Hartley will be 30 years old in March. If he was going to mature, and suddenly learn to control his temper, it would have happened by now.