Logic dictates - James Haskell is the natural leader for England under Eddie Jones?

Logic dictates - James Haskell is the natural leader for England under Eddie Jones?

Logic dictates - James Haskell is the natural leader for England under Eddie Jones?

Eddie Jones’ arrival as England coach has ushered in a new era which, in addition to bringing a change of playing style and personnel, also seems to have brought the use of ‘management speak’ to an abrupt and welcome halt.

Stuart Lancaster had many qualities, but his voracious appetite for coaching books and DVDs was at times reflected in both the style and content of his communications. In fact, given Jones’s reputation as a straight-talking Aussie, it is hard to avoid the thought that England have gone from David Brent to Crocodile Dundee.

Since his recent arrival at Twickenham, Jones has already simplified England’s coaching arrangements and announced a first squad which introduces some new faces and excludes a couple of surprising ones, in Tom Wood and Tom Youngs.

His next task is to appoint a captain, and based on what we have heard so far, Jones will also bring a new approach to this.

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England have historically appointed their leader on a long-term basis, and he has then become part of the furniture. From Bill Beaumont to Will Carling, and Martin Johnson to Chris Robshaw, the captain’s name was entered on the teamsheet, after which (sometimes in consultation with him) his 14 colleagues followed.

Jones seems to favour the approach used historically by a number of very successful Southern Hemisphere teams, whereby the best team is picked, then a captain subsequently appointed.

Since the Calcutta Cup clash that launches England’s Six Nations is still three weeks away, it will be some time before the announcement is made. So by putting together what we know, who are the candidates, and what are the prospects of a Wasp being appointed?

Backs

Mike Brown is certain to be Jones’ first England full back, and his feisty onfield persona seems exactly what the Aussie coach wants from his team. However, Brown is a long way from the action at full back, which is why, with the exception of Scots Andy Irvine and Gavin Hastings, it is hard to think of an international skipper who has worn the No.15 shirt.

Jack Nowell and Anthony Watson are likely to start on the wings, with either Jonathan Joseph or Elliott Daly at outside centre. It seems likely that Jones will play Owen Farrell outside George Ford at inside centre, and of these six, only Farrell has even the remotest of captaincy prospects.

However, given that most of the Saracen’s rugby has been played at fly half, he is prone to disciplinary lapses and has in recent weeks been seen on TV exhibiting an unfortunate manner when speaking to (or more accurately yelling at) the referee, the appointment of Farrell seems a long shot.

Harlequins’ skipper Danny Care and the experienced Ben Youngs will contest the No.9 shirt, and both names must go on the captaincy shortlist.

Care has matured into a fine player, but it is hard to escape the thought that he is seen to best effect from the bench, while Leicester have this season turned from Youngs to his brother Tom as the injured Ed Slater’s stand-in.

Forwards

Jones’s first forward pack seems likely to go back to what used to be the English way - being big and nasty.

He will seek to impose physically, scrummage powerfully and never take a backward step, on which basis the inclusion of a number of Saracens, whose pack is currently dominating all-comers, is guaranteed.

Mako and Billy Vunipola, George Kruis and hooker Jamie George should therefore all make the starting line-up, alongside which the names of Joe Launchbury and Northampton tight head Paul Hill, who has emerged seemingly from nowhere as an alternative to the struggling Dan Cole, can be added.

This means another Saint, Dylan Hartley, who has been rumoured as Jones’s preferred captaincy choice falls at the first hurdle, since he cannot get in the best XV.

This is consistent with his current struggles to win a starting spot in his club side, and renders any debate about his disciplinary record irrelevant.

It seems unlikely that Jones would have retained ex-captain Chris Robshaw in the squad unless he intends to play him. Given Jones’s utterances on the subject to date, it is equally improbable that Harlequins’ blindside flanker will either play in the No.7 shirt, as he did under Lancaster, or retain the captain’s armband.

Of these seven forwards, Launchbury is the only possible captain, and he has a number of high-profile supporters including World Cup winner Will Greenwood.

However, the Wasps lock is yet to turn 25, is a softly-spoken man with no captaincy experience at club level, and while he is an outstanding, athletic, modern-style forward, he hardly epitomises ‘big and nasty.’

However, they are currently thin on the ground in English rugby. Having named uncapped Harlequin Jack Clifford in his squad, Jones promptly said he sees his long-term future at No.8. In addition, most people’s preferred option, Gloucester’s Matt Kvesic, has only been named as an injury replacement, so is hardly at the forefront of Jones’ mind.

This leaves the problematic No.7 shirt to fill, and here the plot thickens. Jones has said England must find and deploy a specialist nose-over-the-ball openside, in the style of Wales’ Sam Warburton, Aussie Michael Hooper or legendary Kiwi Richie McCaw.

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Despite his stated preference for a specialist openside, Jones has hinted that Wasps’ skipper James Haskell, who has won under 10 of his 62 caps in the position, in the No.7 shirt as a short-term fix.

It is rumoured that Haskell has been encouraged to work on his breakdown skills with Wasps’ former Aussie skipper George Smith, who was one of the greatest ever scavengers, and even that Jones would like Smith to join England’s back-room team on an advisory basis.

Conclusion

If Haskell is included in Jones’ first line-up, he seems the natural choice to captain it.

He will be the most capped player in the side, he is a proven and respected leader at club level, has experience playing club rugby in France, Japan and New Zealand and will deal easily with the job’s wider off-field demands.

Replacing Robshaw as a player with Haskell seems totally counter-intuitive, since as opensides they are both square pegs in a round hole.

However, given the paucity of alternatives, on either a playing or captaincy level it may just be the best short-term option, even though the media onslaught will be deafening should Scotland skin the red rose at the breakdown and claim a win at Murrayfield.

Welcome to England, Mr. Jones.

– Entry was posted on January 21st, 2016 by James Haskell
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