England needs a great leader to compete at the next World Cup Posted about 12 years ago

Here’s a list – David Kirk, Nick Farr-Jones, Francois Pienaar, John Eales, Martin Johnson, John Smit, Richie McCaw. Here’s another list – Steve Borthwick, Mike Tindall, Lewis Moody. The first group of men are winning World Cup captains. The second group consists of England captains under Martin Johnson. So how do you bridge the gap?

That is the biggest question facing Stuart Lancaster, the new England coach. He needs a leader of men, not a drill sergeant. If England are to have any hope at the next World Cup – and home advantage should give them that hope – then they have to find a captain who can live with that international elite.

At the moment perhaps only New Zealand and Wales have a man of such stature, although you could make a weaker case for Australia, Ireland and Argentina. Bismarck du Plessis may become that man for South Africa in the intervening years. But who is Lancaster’s leader?

There appears to be three candidates – Dylan Hartley, Chris Robshaw (both captains of their Premiership teams) and Tom Wood. Hartley has to be ruled out because his disciplinary record just isn’t good enough. The opposition will want to provoke him and Hartley has yet to prove that he can control the beast as Johnson learned to do.

So that leaves Wood or Robshaw. One of the first principles of captaincy (and it haunted Borthwick) is that you have to be sure of your place in the side. Neither Wood or Robshaw is a certainty (especially with Wood now struggling with a foot injury), but then the same could be said for the entire XV that will start the match against Scotland.

Lancaster has stressed the need for leadership, because he is well aware that a complete breakdown in authority undermined England’s 2011 World Cup. Lancaster’s language stresses his belief that talent alone is not enough at this level.

The head coach has stressed words like “selfless”, “humble,” “respect,” “responsibility” and “not arrogant”. He has thrown Danny Care out of the squad for drunkenness. Some of the older, us-and-them lags, like Nick Easter, have gone. So have some of the preeners.

I am thrilled about the start that Lancaster has made. He is a bit short of quality players, particularly in midfield, but at least he is looking to set a standard. But as Graham Henry found out over the years, he cannot set the standard by himself. Henry needed his captain and leadership squad to take the players with him.

Lancaster says: “Talent gets you there, character keeps you there.” Before the 2011 World Cup I wrote a column hoping that England would lose. My objections were to the stultifying bashers in the midfield, the opportunistic selection of overseas players and the dreadful arrogance of many of the squad.

So I have good reason to be happy about the start Lancaster has made. Shontayne Hape and Mike Tindall are out altogether and Matt Banahan has been relegated. That’s the bash bashed. Danny Care has been disciplined, James Haskell is ineligible and Easter has been dropped. That’s a good start, although Lancaster will need to keep an eye on the egotistical behaviour of some of his outside backs. And the squad does look, well, a bit more English.

So I wish Lancaster well, although I fear England will struggle initially with a lack of quality and experience. But if the new coach is to put some respect back into the shirt, he needs a captain who can take the players with him. Wood or Robshaw or A.N.Other? Who do you think?

Enter your email address to continue reading

We frequently post interesting articles and comment from our world class content providers so please provide us with your email address and we will notify you when new articles are available.

We'll also get in touch with various news and updates that we think will interest you. We promise to not spam, sell, or otherwise abuse your address (you can unsubscribe at any time).

See all News & Opinions videos


comments powered by Disqus

Mark Reason has been a sports journalist for over 25 years. He currently works for Fairfax Media and will also be part of the Telegraph's World Cup team and a regular panellist on Radio New Zealand during the World Cup. He has covered every Rugby World Cup since 1991, the 2000 and 2008 Olympics, over 40 golf major championships, the FA Cup final, the Epsom Derby and a lot of other stuff he can't remember. Mark emigrated to New Zealand in 2010 having spent over 20 years covering sport for the Telegraph and Sunday Times in Britain.

Topic News & Opinions
Applicable to Coaches  

Related articles

Winging it

The Hurricanes wing play destroyed the Crusaders in Super Rugby’s round 7. Mark Reason points out the lessons to be learned from Savea et al.

In search of the perfect pass

The Hurricanes delivered a lesson in how to execute the right pass at the right time against the Cheetahs in Super Rugby round 5.

The art of the kick in behind

Jonny Sexton and Ireland tried to exploit England’s rush defence by kicking in behind. Unfortunately for the Irish, Sexton lacked the kind of precision that Aaron Cruden showed against them in November.

Schmidt plots a course through England's defence

Joe Schmidt and Ireland found a way to breach both the All Black’s and the Welsh defences. Can they repeat the trick at Twickenham on Saturday and stay on course for the Grand Slam?

Ah, the rolling maul

Josef Schmidt’s Ireland identified Wales’s weaknesses and were relentless in exposing them writes Mark Reason