Australia vs. England player ratings

Mako Vunipola 6/10 – He failed to have a major impact at the scrum and the tempo looked too much for him at times. A couple of crucial missed tackles.

Dylan Hartley 7.5/10 – The Captain led from the front and had just enough edge. Hartley was strong in the set piece.

Dan Cole 7/10 – Came out on top in the scrum eventually with Scott Sio being sin-binned. However the scrum was a mess in the first half and Cole was at fault on a number of occasions.

Maro Itoje 8.5/10 – The Saracen superstar made two turnovers in the first half including one on England’s five metre line. Itoje was tremendous in the lineout and was a consistent nuisance for Australia. His work at the breakdown counters England’s lack of an out-and-out fetcher. On every stage so far he has dominated.

George Kruis 7/10 – A strong performance from Kruis. He was strong in the set piece and had a good work rate.

Chris Robshaw 7.5/10 – The Harlequin won a penalty from a turnover and his hard work to chase the kick that hit the post created a scoring opportunity for England.

James Haskell 9/10 – His best performance for England. Haskell brought relentless line speed, made 18 tackles (twice as many as any other England player) as well as making a quick break off the back of the maul. A complete performance from the number 7 who has been much maligned. Rightful Man of the Match.

haskell aus

Billy Vunipola 7/10 – A good performance from Vunipola. Australia stopped his carrying from getting up a full head of steam but he worked hard and made an important turnover.

Ben Youngs 8/10 – The Leicester scrum half’s best performance for England in a while. His aggressiveness and eagerness in defence was a surprise added bonus. Youngs brought control.

Owen Farrell 9/10 – He moved to inside centre early on and excelled. Farrell kicked brilliantly, challenged the line and was tenacious in defence. He is becoming England’s best player.

faz aus.jpg

Marland Yarde 7/10 – A surprise selection but the winger played well scoring a try with a simple finish. He looked dangerous with ball in hand.

Luther Burrell 5/10 – Pulled off after 29 minutes as England could not deal with the Wallabies’ fluent back line. Tough to come back from this.

Jonathan Joseph 7.5/10 – The Bath centre made a couple of nice breaks whilst England were under the cosh. Finished off England’s first try. A good performance in attack and defence.

Anthony Watson 6/10 – A quiet match for England’s most potent finisher.

Mike Brown 6/10 – On his 50th cap he made a couple of basic errors. Brown did not lack endeavour but his performance will provide more fuel for those who want Alex Goode in the 15 shirt.

Replacements

Luke Cowan-Dickie 6/10 – Made an important lineout throw under pressure.

Matt Mullan 6/10 – Solid impact.

Paul Hill 6.5/10 – Worked hard in the loose almost forcing a turnover.

Joe Launchbury 6/10 – Not on for long but made one big hit.

Courtney Lawes 6/10 – Brought on fairly early in the second half but failed to influence the game.

Danny Care 6.5/10 – Sharp break in the last minute of the game.

George Ford 8/10 – Under massive pressure he performed with class. A lovely pass set up the Yarde try and a well weighted kick created Nowell’s try. Expect him to start next week.

Jack Nowell 7/10 – A surprise omission. When he came on made an important tackle on Kuridrani and finished off a Ford’s kick nicely.

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Champions Cup Round Up

After two intense Semi-Finals, it will be the Anglo-French affair of Racing 92 against Saracens in Lyon on the 14th of May. Saracens are unbeaten in the tournament having amassed six victories in the pool stage which makes them the form team in Europe this season. However the Galacticos of Racing may well be favourites due to the match being played in France and having a winning machine at fly-half in the form of Dan Carter. Here is a look at how these two teams reached the biggest match in European rugby.

Saracens vs. Wasps

Although Saracens were generally accepted as favourites before the Semi-Final a number of pundits had tipped Wasps due to their incredible run of form in the last couple of months. It was the dominant Saracens who won the game with relative ease. Wasps started excellently scoring within the first minute due to brilliant work from Christian Wade and Dan Robson. However Saracens slowly gained control squeezing Wasps out of the game. A charge down try from Michael Rhodes gave Saracens an 8-7 lead at half time before penalties from Owen Farrell (who was unusually shaky from the tee) and a penalty-try put them into a commanding position. A try from substitute Ashley Johnson, who picked a superb line from deep in the style of Jamie Roberts, burst over with five minutes left giving Wasps some hope. However Saracens held out to secure a place in the final.

Sarries’ defence to the fore

After a poor start conceding an early Saracens try did well to shut down the outside channels. The line speed that Saracens brought limited the ball that could reach the flanks. This denied the likes of Elliot Daly, Charles Piutau and Wade the space that they thrive upon. It was a real team effort but the martialling in the centres was particularly impressive. Although Wasps made metres with ball in hand they never cut loose which is rare with the quality of backs at their disposal. This being said the Wasps defence deserves a share of the credit. It is telling that Saracens tries came from a charge down and a penalty try. Their options in open play were limited well by the Coventry based side. Saracens’ slowed down ball at the breakdown and won a number of important turnovers. Itoje and Mako Vunipola both had particularly impressive outings.

The best lineout in Europe

When playing in Europe, forward strength and a strong set piece are absolutely vital. The lineout of Saracens was once again crucial with a penalty-try coming from a driving maul. They retained all but one of their 13 lineouts whereas Wasps lost three on their own ball. Small margins such are these are crucial in big matches. With the lineout expertise of Maro Itoje and George Kruis this was expected but nevertheless the importance of lineout dominance should not be underestimated. Crucial steals limited Wasps’ attacking ball in dangerous areas adding to the collective defensive effort.

Immature Ashton

Chris Ashton had an admirable performance on the whole. His ability to stop Wade from breaking down the wing when it seemed inevitable was particularly impressive. However he cannot avoid making errors. His push on Frank Halai, which resulted in a penalty and the try being disallowed was another example. Although the nudge was fairly innocuous it illustrated poor judgement. Did his push enhance Saracens’ chance of scoring the try? Yes, but there was a chance they could have scored without his intervention. His push was just obvious and forceful enough for it to be a penalty. A small criticism it may be but if he just cut them out of his game he would be an improved player. His form justifies a place on the plane to Australia but incidents like this just provide fuel for his detractors.

 

Leicester Tigers vs. Racing 92

French teams have historically not travelled well in Europe. But most French sides do not possess Dan Carter at the helm. Racing went in as favourites and only enhanced their reputation throughout the game. Racing started excellently playing from deep with man of the match Maxime Machenaud darting over at the end of a long move to put them in front. Leicester managed to go in at half-time only seven points behind despite a performance lacking in any attacking threat. Racing remained in control after the break and a crucial 55-metre kick from Johannes Goosen looked to have sealed it with the score at 19-9.  With two minutes to go Telusa Veainu popped over after a long Leicester attack to give the Tigers hope. However three points down and on their own line with no time left the chance was all but gone. A three point margin flattered Leicester greatly.

Semi-Final ground selection

The selection of the grounds for the Semi-Finals gives home advantage to teams who seeded highest at the pool stage. However the advantage only extends to country. This meant that Saracens against Wasps was played in a half full Madejski stadium whilst the Leicester match, held at the City Ground, had an attendance of just over 22,000 leaving over 7,000 seats unfilled. In the first instance the ground choice is more understandable with Allianz Park having a small capacity. However, Welford Road has a capacity of 26,000 and it is likely more fans would have watched the game in Leicester than did in Nottingham. There have been a number of examples of poor attendance in European knockout games in recent years including last years’ final where tickets were given away for free to boost the Toulon vs. Clermont attendance at Twickenham. One way to improve the atmosphere is for Semi-Final games to played at the home team’s actual ground. Although in some cases this will reduce attendance it will at least ensure a full ground with a home support atmosphere.

Leicester lack attacking edge

Leicester have been much lauded for the acquisition of former All Black Aaron Mauger as their backs coach and rightly so. But the Tigers attack today was completely blunt. Racing deserve credit as a mammoth defensive effort was led by veteran Chris Masoe. Yet despite this Leicester need to take some blame namely the 14 handling errors that were made. Any form of attacking momentum was cut off by poor mistakes. The likes of Peter Betham, Manu Tuilagi and Veainu have provided so much go forward this season but today any threat was non-existent. It was a disappointing performance which was described by Richard Cockerill as ‘jittery’. This Leicester attack is still in its infancy and will only improve but today showed they have a long way to go.

Masoe and Machenaud show their class

Chris Masoe and Maxime Machenaud both put in brilliant performances to put their side in to the Champions Cup final. Masoe, despite being 36, put in a gigantic performance making 17 carries and 18 tackles. He led the defensive effort and seemed to relish the opportunity to tackle Tiger’s strike runners in the form of Tuilagi and Opeti Fonua. His quality shone through as he attempts to make it his fourth Champions Cup on the bounce after winning the last three years with Toulon. The man of the match however was scrum-half Machenaud. He set the tone with an early try and did not stop. Machenaud was extremely dangerous around the fringes showing up his counter-part Ben Youngs. Guy Noves needs to stick with the 27 year old who showed glimpses of what he can do in the Grand Slam decider in Paris. Some consistency at half-back is crucial for France going forward.

RBS Six Nations Team of the Championship

 

  1. Jack McGrath

McGrath has played consistently well and firmly come out of Cian Healy’s shadow. He has carried powerfully and been competitive in the scrum.

Unlucky to miss out: Rob Evans started the tournament promisingly but his performances dipped. Joe Marler and Mako Vunipola have been rotated which makes it hard to select either of them.

  1. Guilhem Guirado

The French Captain has been outstanding throughout the tournament. He has led a very average France team excellently and has been a shining example. Guirado has carried well and has been ferocious in defence. One of the only positives for Guy Noves.

Unlucky to miss out: Dylan Hartley has had a good tournament but has not performed as well as Guirado. Elsewhere the other hookers had mediocre tournaments.

  1. WP Nel

Nel has become a cornerstone of the Scottish pack. He scrummaged well and his game in the loose is improving. He looks a shoe-in for the Lions tour next summer.

Unlucky to miss out: Dan Cole played well at times but was to error prone to make it into the team of the tournament.

  1. Maro Itoje

Itoje has been incredible since he was given his first start against Ireland. His ability to steal ball in the lineout has been vital for England. Itoje is a great defender and his carrying game was crucial in Anthony Watson’s try against Wales. A better start to an international career is hard to find.

  1. George Kruis

Kruis has also had an outstanding tournament. He has been tireless in the loose and his lineout work, alongside Itoje, has provided England with a world-class lineout. He has cemented his place in the squad ahead of Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes which is a massive statement in itself.

Unlucky to miss out: Johnny Gray had his moments but generally there was little competition for this selection.

  1. CJ Stander

Stander has been a shining light for Ireland this tournament. Despite being a number 8 by trade he has excelled at international rugby at flanker. Stander has carried excellently sucking in multiple defenders. His work rate has been particularly impressive and has made the loss of Sean O’Brien less noticeable.

Unlucky to miss out: Dan Lydiate played well against England but overall there was little contemplation for this position.

  1. Chris Robshaw

This was a tough decision as there has not been a stand out openside. I have therefore shifted across Robshaw to seven, even though it has been definitively confirmed he should play blindside flanker for England. Robshaw has been superb for England making countless tackles, carrying well and even getting the odd turnover. He has also played a crucial part in England’s lineout success which has often been overshadowed by Kruis and Itoje.

Unlucky to miss out: John Hardie was the name I wrote down initially and he has played well for Scotland but has not had the impact that Robshaw has had. James Haskell has also had a fine tournament in the 7 jersey.

  1. Billy Vunipola

This was the easiest decision of the lot. Vunipola put in three man of the match performances and his carrying was phenomenal. Under Eddie Jones the Saracen has taken his game to the next level.

Unlucky to miss out: Taulupe Faletau was once again excellent but was not as good as his cousin in this tournament.

  1. Gareth Davies

Scrum-half was another tough decision. Greg Laidlaw led his side admirably and Connor Murray came into his own in the latter half of the tournament. Danny Care and Ben Youngs played well at times but I thought Davies was the most consistent. His running game meant he was always threatening as his two tries in the tournament proved.

Unlucky to miss out: Greg Laidlaw, Connor Murray

  1. Johnny Sexton

Sexton proved his class throughout the tournament. His ability to control a game is still second to none in Europe and he marshalled an ever changing Irish back line into some fluid play.

Unlucky to miss out: Dan Biggar played well but honestly his performances slightly disappointed me compared to the World Cup and this season for the Ospreys.

  1. George North

George North has finally got back to his best. He has scored wonderful individual tries and has given Wales some impetus on the wing. The re-emergence of Europe’s premier winger.

Unlucky to miss out: Jack Nowell has been consistent throughout the tournament but has not done enough to break into this team.

  1. Jamie Roberts

Roberts has been excellent this tournament providing Wales with go forward and scoring tries at crucial moments. His power in defence has also been a stand out feature. One of Roberts’ best Six Nations campaigns.

Unlucky to miss out: Owen Farrell has played really well out of position throughout the championship and is a worthy contender.

  1. Duncan Taylor

This was the hardest position to pick but I have gone for Taylor. He has had a couple of excellent individual moments including a 60 metre tap and go try against France and an unbelievable cover tackle on Tom James against Wales where he managed to catch up with James after a 50-odd metre pursuit. There have been few vintage performances in the 13 jersey but Taylor has been the best of the bunch.

Unlucky to miss out: Michele Campagnaro has played very well and has made lots of small but positive impacts for Italy without ever doing anything game changing. Despite a hat-trick against Italy Johnathan Joseph has not excelled like he did last year despite playing consistently well.

  1. Anthony Watson

Watson’ ability to score tries is so impressive. He scored three tries in the championship and averages a try every other game in international rugby. His footwork and acceleration have made him so dangerous throughout the championship. I have also been impressed with his aerial work when contesting the high ball.

Unlucky to miss out: Virimi Vakatawa has shown glimpses of how good a player he could be but lacks precision at the moment. Tommy Seymour has also put in a number of impressive performances in the tournament.

  1. Stuart Hogg

Hogg’s ability to create individual moments of magic is second to none, as demonstrated by the brilliant flick over his head to set up Tim Visser, or his try against Ireland where he carried the ball from the halfway line to over the try line virtually untouched. Hogg keeps on improving season upon season.

Unlucky to miss out: Mike Brown has had a mixed tournament but played excellently against Wales and France. He needs to have his head up more once he breaks the line, however, his ability to make metres should not be underestimated.

Player of the tournament: Billy Vunipola

 

Team Breakdown

England 5

Ireland 3

Scotland 3

Wales 3

France 1

Italy 0

 

Player ratings for England vs. Wales

Joe Marler 7 – The loose-head carried hard, scrummaged well for the most part and made his tackles. A good showing from Marler who was the better of England’s two vying loose-heads on the day.

Dylan Hartley 7.5 – Excellent game for the Captain. England’s lineout ran like clockwork winning 14 out of 14. He was abrasive in the loose carrying hard and showed some delicacy to his game with a nice offload in the opening salvo. Hartley has firmly established himself as this team’s leader.

Dan Cole 6.5 – The scrum was solid enough with Cole winning penalties on England’s ball more than once. However this was not consistent and the yellow card he was awarded played a part in England conceding two tries. Admittedly that was for a number of team offences but nevertheless the consequences nearly costly for England.

Maro Itoje 9 – Itoje is somehow managing to live up to the cacophony of hype that has surrounded his selection in the England squad. He was excellent at the lineout disrupting the Welsh ball on two occasions, carried well and was fierce in defence topping the tackles made with 14. His ability to work as a flanker in the ruck is a real asset to England and helps to make up for the lack of an out and out openside.

George Kruis 8 – Once again the Saracen was superb. His lineout work was as good as ever but his work in the loose was also excellent. Kruis made an important turnover and was industrious as per usual. Hard to see Launchbury getting back in the team without moving Itoje in to the backrow.

Chris Robshaw 7 – This was his best game in the tournament so far. His carrying was particularly impressive making the second most metres of an England forward. Robshaw looked back to his best and looks comfortable in his position as just a blindside flanker.

James Haskell 6.5 – A solid game from Haskell. His line speed was impressive as was his work rate. He gave away a penalty for an unnecessary neck roll and it is these types of errors that need cutting out.

Billy Vunipola 7 – The Welsh defence dealt with Vunipola much better than anyone in the tournament so far with Dan Lydiate doing a particularly good job. That being said he was still influential with ball in hand and his presence alone created space in the wider channels. He made 11 tackles, the second most in the England pack, which shows the level of work he puts in defence which can often be forgotten.

Ben Youngs 7 – An improved performance by Youngs. His tempo in the first half was good and helped England to assert dominance in attack.

George Ford 6 – Ford looked like he was back his best in the first half as he distributed the ball well. However he showed disappointing game management skills in the second half and was charged down by Dan Biggar. He was replaced by Farrell at 10 presumably to try and instil more control, although that did not necessarily work.

Jack Nowell 7 – Another impressive performance from the Exeter winger. He did so well to always make metres when he got the ball. Nowell ended up carrying for 85 metres and beating six Welsh defenders which was only surpassed by Mike Brown. Nowell is a formidable defender as well who reads the game intelligently.

Owen Farrell 7 – The Saracen is becoming more adept at inside-centre. He adds another distribution option and his kicking from the tee was excellent. Farrell is becoming less and less of a worry when used in the centres.

Jonathan Joseph 6 – Another good performance from Joseph. One again he looked threatening but failed to cut loose. With Manu Tuilagi and Elliot Daly on the bench, a big performance next week could be important going in to the summer tour.

Anthony Watson 7.5 – A very impressive performance by Watson. He showed his ability to beat players in small spaces and was superb at competing with the Welsh back three under the high ball winning it on multiple occasions. He finished his try nicely which took the 22 year old to 10 tries in 19 international appearances which is an excellent record.

Mike Brown 8 – Brown looked back to his best. He was brilliant with ball in hand constantly making metres, breaking the line and going round defenders. He ran for 139 metres and beat 7 defenders which is exceptional. Admittedly he should have done better from his first line break where he cut back in towards Liam Williams instead of going to the outside. Nevertheless an in form Brown makes England’s attack significantly more potent.

 

Noteworthy Replacements

The wave of replacements made by Eddie Jones did not work as he admitted in his post-match interview. They were not helped by being down to fourteen but nevertheless could have coped better.

Mako Vunipola 6 – Nothing particularly good or bad about his cameo. Unusual for Vunipola who normally brings so much dynamism from the bench.

Jack Clifford 6 – He worked hard making 5 tackles in a short period of time. Still adapting to international level.

Danny Care 6 – Threatened around the fringes but could have helped control the last 15 better.

Manu Tuilagi 6 – He was eager for work but failed to make much of an impact. Tuilagi made a good tackle on George North at the end of the game.

The IRB residency rules need changing

‘A Player may only play for the senior fifteen-aside National Representative Team, the next senior fifteen-a-side National Representative Team and the senior National Representative Sevens Team of the Union of the country in which:

(a) he was born; or

(b) one parent or grandparent was born; or

(c) he has completed thirty six consecutive months of Residence immediately preceding the time of playing.’

As it currently stands, 36 months of residency is all that is required for a player to qualify for international selection. This rule has led development in the concept of ‘project players’. European nations have started to target Southern Hemisphere players who have the potential to play for their national side. They are approached, offered a chance of international rugby three years down the line, and imported to play in the domestic competition before making the step up on to the international stage. Examples in recent years include Rory Kockott, Uini Atonio, Scott Spedding, Josh Strauss, WP Nel, Jared Payne, and Samuela Vunisa to name just a few. The importation of these players for the purpose of international rugby seems counterintuitive to the basis of the international game.

I am not suggesting that the residency ruling is scrapped altogether. However, the period of residency needs to be extended. We are now at the stage where players of the age of 22 or 23 are moving to Europe fully aware that by the age of 25 or 26 they could be playing international rugby. To take one example, CJ Stander has just been named in the Irish squad for the Six Nations. His eligibility was gained purely by playing for Munster for three years. Stander is only 25 but, due to the highly competitive South African backrow, has decided to commit to the team most likely to fulfil his international ambitions. Another potential example is Ben Tameifuna who moved to Racing 92 in the summer. By the time he is 27 he could be playing for France. What makes his example even more ridiculous is the fact that he was called up to the New Zealand squad in 2012. Tameifuna never made an appearance and therefore a player who was so close to playing for the All Blacks could play for France in under three years’ time. This illustrates the frivolity of national allegiance which is developing within international rugby. Swapping allegiance is part of club rugby but it should not be part of the international game.

Another important issue that a change in residency would address is the exploitation of smaller nations’ talent by both European and Southern Hemisphere powerhouses. One of the main objectives of international rugby over recent years has been to develop the tier two nations into more competitive sides. I would suggest one way to assist this would be reducing the number who are scouted and recruited for other nations. Fiji, Samoa and Tonga have often suffered the cultivation of their most talented players. Nathan Hughes is one prime example. Fiji, the country of Hughes’ birth, contacted the dynamic number 8 about playing for them in the World Cup. Hughes turned down this opportunity as he had less than a year until he qualified to play for England. The World Cup was deprived of a star and more importantly Fiji have been denied a potentially world class player. Of course, this was the choice of Hughes, but if the rules had required five years of residency then Hughes could now be a Fijian international.

Residency rules are not an easy issue to address. The fact that Hughes turned down a World Cup illustrates his commitment to England. I have no doubt he will become an influential player for England, be as dedicated as any and, rightly so, become a fans favourite. Nevertheless I believe the process has become too simple and is being misused. The recruitment of domestic sides and the National Unions is becoming to overbearing on the international game. Transfer acumen should not affect international rugby. I therefore propose a lengthening of the years of residency from three to five. A rugby career is a short one and anyone prepared to give five years of it towards playing international rugby for a new nation should be granted that opportunity.

If this change was implemented a reduction in the frequency of project players should occur forcing nations to look inwards for development of talent. In addition, it should reduce the exploitation of the tier two nations and encourage their players to opt for the nation of their birth. Although the financial and organisational structures of some of those nations need to be addressed to aid this process. The IRB stated in 2014 that they would not change the residency rule but the time has come for that to be reassessed. If international rugby is to remain the purest form of the sport I believe a change needs to be made.

 

Who should be the next England captain?

The Rugby Football Union made the correct decision in appointing Eddie Jones as England’s Head Coach. However, a number of issues remain unresolved in the England set up. The problem of the England captaincy is one of the most important decisions to be made by Jones. Unfortunately there is no outstanding candidate for the position. England should therefore appoint a captain on an interim basis for two main reasons. Firstly, it will allow the new Head Coach to get to know the players before appointing someone on a permanent basis. Secondly, it will allow Jones to appoint someone outside the current player group, if he so desires, as they will have a year of international rugby under their belt. There are a number of potential candidates who could be employed on either a short-term or long-term basis.

George Ford/Owen Farrell

Ford and Farrell are being dealt with together as they are not a feasible option for the same reason. Neither of them is guaranteed to start. It is likely both will be in a match day 23 whether it be at fly-half and centre or fly-half and reserve fly-half. However they could be in and out of the starting team on a situational basis due to their different strengths. This means that despite the fact they both have leadership qualities and have enough experience to take on the role it would make little sense to appoint one of them. Henry Slade and Danny Cipriani should not be forgotten from the battle for the 10 jersey either.

Mike Brown

Although I would love to see Brown as captain from an entertainment point of view his fiery temperament means he is unlikely to be named captain. That being said, Brown is a leader who has 43 caps of experience and is likely to remain in the team for at least the next year or two. However I think it would be advisable to keep Brown as just a senior member of the squad. He becomes more of an option if Jones elects for an interim captain but his reputation as ‘Mr Angry’ will count against him.

Chris Robshaw

For me Robshaw’s time as captain has come to an end. At 29 he is not a guaranteed starter and in the past he has demonstrated questionable judgement on a number of occasions. For those reasons I think he should be replaced as captain. Personally I would keep him in the squad (competing for the 6 shirt) as there are not many flankers superior to Robshaw available for selection. If Jones did select a short-term captain, then potentially it would make sense to choose Robshaw but a different member of the squad would be my preference.

Dylan Hartley

Hartley has the experience and leadership skills to be the England captain. But his temperament has let him down time and time again to the extent that he has become a liability. I would reintroduce him to the squad but not in a leadership position for that reason. Currently I like the idea of Jamie George starting for England with Tom Youngs on the bench which means Hartley’s form would have to pick up to get into my match day squad in any case.

Tom Wood

Wood very nearly became England captain under Stuart Lancaster, and has openly expressed an interest in becoming the new skipper although the timing of this was ‘questioned’ by Dave Ward in an amusing twitter spat. Wood, once again, is a leader who has international experience and therefore will come into the reckoning. Personally I think his place in the starting fifteen is very much in doubt and therefore his appointment would be an error. However, if Jones sees Wood as starter going forward he has got as good a chance as any of being appointed.

Ben Youngs

Youngs falls into a very similar category to Wood. He has got the experience and the leadership qualities to be the skipper. Youngs is likely to remain the starting scrum-half but he will have to deal with the challenge of Danny Care, Richard Wigglesworth and Joe Simpson. In my mind he is not a guaranteed starter and for that reason I would not pick him as captain. However I think his appointment would be an understandable one especially on an interim basis.

Maro Itoje

It is testament to Itoje that, despite no international experience and limited domestic game time, he is my second favourite choice to be captain. There is no doubt he is the heir apparent and it is only a matter of time until he becomes captain. However I think it is important for Itoje to gather some international experience before being awarded the captaincy. Adapting to the international game will be a massive challenge in itself for the 21 year old without having to worry about the added pressure of the captaincy. It would be crushing to see such a talent burdened by that responsibility too early on. If his performances were disappointing, which I do not anticipate, the appointment of him as captain would be marked as an error and could affect him adversely going forward. Therefore I would like to see him establish himself for England for a season or two before being considered. He does have the advantage of being a definite starter for the foreseeable future, whether it be at lock or at blindside flanker, and he would bring a new energy to the side. Nevertheless England should remain patient.

Joe Launchbury

I think Launchbury should be appointed, but only on an interim basis. He is a guaranteed starter for England, if fully fit, and is familiar enough with the international stage to take on the responsibility yet his natural leadership has been questioned. A short term appointment would allow Jones and Launchbury the opportunity to see if captaincy suits him. If not Itoje would be in a stronger position to take over if required. It has been argued by many a pundit that Launchbury would grow into the role and a short term basis would allow this theory to be tested. It should be considered that captaincy may not sit well with Launchbury. The example of Joe Marler for Harlequins comes to mind who resigned after one season due to the added strain it provided. The extra pressure of club captaincy is only a fraction of that experienced on the national stage. If Launchbury did prove a strong leader than he could be given the role on a more permanent basis. If not then the captaincy could be given to another squad member with Itoje being the leading candidate. Although this is far from an ideal situation I think that it is the best option available to England.