Chris Robshaw the man for England

Stop all the nonsense, Chris Robshaw is the man for the England captaincy and to select anyone else at the stage would be a mistake.

There will be plenty who disagree with that statement but looking at the other potential options it seems the only logical conclusion and when Stuart Lancaster names his captain tomorrow it would be staggering if he does not name Robshaw.

The popular alternative opinion seems to be that Tom Wood should be named captain having done a fine job this summer in Argentina and having been the alleged preferred choice when Stuart Lancaster first took over, only for injury to curtail that plan.

However the argument for Wood is largely based on the fact that Chris Robshaw’s place in the team in perceived to be under threat because he is not a ‘genuine’ openside and that therefore a breakaway such as Matt Kvesic should start.

Indeed Wood himself was putting Robshaw under pressure for the seven shirt until a long term injury to Tom Croft freed up the six shirt. What that means though is that Wood’s position in the team is as much under threat as Robshaw’s, and the same criticism that plagues Robshaw can be levelled at Wood, he is not an ‘out and out’ seven.

For that reason it is utterly illogical to make Tom Wood captain over Robshaw. Why rock the boat and destabilise the squad by changing captain for another man who has no guarantee over his long-term place?

When (and, regrettably, if) Tom Croft returns from injury he will be the natural pick at blindside, meaning that Wood will be fighting for a place in the team alongside Robshaw. Indeed that is what happened last year when Wood ended up at number eight, an experiment that proved to be ultimately unsuccessful.

Do not be mistaken, Wood is a fine player and would be a very able captain but to select him as captain would be to retain the existing captaincy dilemma but just under a different name and with the added problem of making a very public snub of Robshaw and risking destabilising the squad.

There are a couple of other less highly talked about options though, Dylan Hartley and Geoff Parling, both of whom are highly regarded and have demonstrated strong leadership, with Parling really coming to the fore as a leader with the Lions this summer.

Hartley brings the same problem as the Robshaw/Wood conundrum though, mainly that he is not guaranteed selection. Hartley is locked in a magnificent battle with Tom Youngs for the starting berth at hooker.

Hartley also brings with him a disciplinary record that is bad enough for Stuart Lancaster to have had to speak to him on two separate occasions about his conduct. Given the image that this England squad is trying to portray, Dylan Hartley is probably not the man who is best placed to be its poster boy.

That is not to say that he does not have an immensely valuable role to play within the squad and the leadership group though, there is little doubt that Hartley is a top leader, it is just that the occasional descent of the red mist makes him an inappropriate choice.

Geoff Parling, to my mind at least, is the most credible and sensible alternative to Robshaw. He is every inch the model pro, he has proven his ability to lead and his role in the Lions only enhanced that view, and of the four major candidates he is the one most guaranteed of his spot at present.

However with Joe Launchbury, Dave Attwood, and particularly Courtney Lawes all playing some great rugby at the moment though, Parling’s place while reasonably secure is by no means set in stone.

Parling is definitely a good option though, so to look at why Lancaster should not turn to him but should stick with Robshaw we must now look at the man in question.

Despite the many thousands of column inches debating Chris Robshaw’s place in the team he is actually pretty certain of his place, at least for this autumn.

Of the six back row players in the EPS Ben Morgan and Billy Vunipola are both categorically number 8’s, they may be able to move around at club level but in the international game that is their only viable position.

That leaves four, Wood, Robshaw, Tom Johnson, and Matt Kvesic. Tom Johnson is in the squad as a six so he places no threat to Robshaw, Tom Wood is seen as the most likely to start at six so that means that the seven shirt looks likely to be a straight shootout between Robshaw and Kvesic. On form this season there is no argument, Robshaw must start ahead of Kvesic.

Also weighing in Robshaw’s favour is that fact the he is very much seen as the leader of this England team and has captained it excellently, helping to rebuild a reputation that had sunk very low before his tenure began.

It is worth remembering that Robshaw has had to learn everything about international rugby whilst under the pressure of being the captain, he had just one cap to his name when he became captain, to have done such a sterling job with so little experience behind him speaks volumes of his character.

Yes there is an argument that Kvesic should get more caps under his belt ahead of the world cup but even so, there is no reason that that should mean Robshaw could not also start, albeit perhaps at six.

Two years ago there was an absolute clamour to get Robshaw in the England team, now those same voices are questioning him, yet when you analyse his game he has improved vastly. His handling has improved and his breakdown skills have developed to the extent that seven is now his favoured position.

Most important of all though is that Robshaw is an excellent captain and has done nothing to suggest that he should not continue to be the captain. He is as likely to start as any of the other candidates, he perfectly fits the mould of the captain Stuart Lancaster wants; a selfless, sensible character and an excellent rugby player.

There is one very left field suggestion that has yet to be mentioned though; Owen Farrell. He seems set to be England’s fly half through to the world cup, he is spiky character yes but has steered clear of controversy, he is mature beyond his years and has obvious leadership skills. He seems happy to take on any pressure that is thrown his way too.

It might provoke cries of nepotism from certain quarters though and it would, rightly, be seen as a rather brave and possibly foolhardy decision to name him as captain.

The England squad is in a very good place right now and is building well towards the world cup. Why rock the boat on the captaincy issue when the man in possession is as good as anyone else and the alternatives all bring the same essential issue that has raised questions over Robshaw – uncertainty over their place.

Robshaw will be England’s number one number seven, so to strip him of the captaincy would be a very big mistake indeed, one that could cause a real divide in the squad. The major reason why it might not is because Robshaw is such a good character that he would not allow his own personal pain to impact the team – I would rather like to be captained by a man like that.

By Angus Savage

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