Stuart Lancaster announced yesterday that Chris Robshaw was not guaranteed to be his England captain during the Autumn Internationals.
It is a surprising statement perhaps, but one that is perfectly in keeping with Stuart Lancasterâ€™s approach since he became the England Head Coach. He has consistently said that he will choose his captain ahead of each series of games.
Do not be alarmed though, the likelihood is that Robshaw will still be captain for the Autumn series, it is likely that Lancaster just wants to keep everyone on their toes and keep the competition within his squad as healthy as possible.
It does seem though that Dylan Hartley particularly impressed Lancaster when he led the side in the 3rd Test against South Africa in June.
Speaking to the BBC, Lancaster said:Â “If you look at the performance of the third Test, while Chris was missed on the field, Dylan did a fantastic job captaining the side.”
“We got a performance out of the team in what was a challenging situation to make sure we finished the tour strongly, on the back of a long hard season for English rugby. That was credit to Dylan and also the rest of the players who played in that team.”
There is also the added â€˜problemâ€™ of the fitness of Tom Wood, who was seen as a potential captain before injury struck ahead of last seasons 6 Nations.
By refusing to name his captain, Lancaster is offering Wood the opportunity to play his way back into the team, whereas if he named Robshaw, Woodâ€™s route back would be blocked.
Lancaster added: “I wouldn’t say the captaincy is overplayed – being England captain is a big job – but a strong leadership group is equally important. If you’ve got a fantastic captain but you haven’t got someone who can run the game from 10 or run a line-out, you can forget it.”
As he says, a leadership group is the most important thing, and for Lancaster who he picks to run the game at 10 is indeed likely to be more of an issue than who he picks as captain.
In all likelihood though, Robshaw will be named captain. His level of performance has been increasing exponentially since he became England captain, and his influence on the team has been clear for all to see.
His performances in the first two tests in South Africa were the sort that any England captain of the past would be proud of, and there are really very few accolades higher than that.