England captain Dylan Hartley would not make the summer tour of South Africa having been ruled out by concussion, but with Jamie George set to make the hooker’s jersey his own, will Eddie Jones be on the lookout for a new leader?
Hartley has obviously been a favourite of Jones, but with George the in-form number two in England and plenty of young talent coming up alongside him, the Northampton Saints front rower’s tenure at the helm of the England team could be coming to a close with this latest blow.
Has Hartley played his final game in England colours? Possibly, but while this is not a certainty, his grip as the England captain has loosened way too far to continue.
But who will Jones turn to for the tour of South Africa, and beyond as he plots for life post-Hartley and towards the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan?
The obvious frontrunner and outstanding candidate is England best play and vocal leader in Owen Farrell. Once again nominated for the European Rugby Player of the Year, a title he is unlikely to claim this term, but still, Farrell is the heartbeat of the Saracens side in both attack and defence; likewise with England, he was the talisman of, albeit unsuccessful, the Natwest Six Nations campaign. Jones will almost certainly ask Farrell to lead in South Africa, but will he be the man long term for England and can his temperament be kept in check as the face of the squad?
If you ask your occasional rugby fan who should be next England captain, Joe Launchbury is unlikely to a name on their lips. Launchbury is not box office style to get the crowds on their feet, but what he lacks in panache, he oozes in work-rate. Currently captaining Wasps, the lock is undoubtedly one of the hardest working players to ever have donned the England jersey and you know week in, week out, he will nothing out there and has been a fine defensive leader in England colours. Could he step up to the plate and take charge? Don’t rule him out.
Former England captain Chris Robshaw stepped down from his leadership role after a dismal 2015 Rugby World Cup campaign, but remains at the heart of Jones’ plans and in the same vein as Launchbury, works himself to the death of every match. The pivotal question for Robshaw is, not only can he keep pace with the up-and-coming back row talent rising up across the Aviva Premiership ranks, but also, can the shame and weight of defeat in 2015 be overlooked for a positive return to the helm or would Jones be risking failure in looking to the past?
Although 2018 has been a quieter year for Maro Itoje, there is no doubting he will go on to become an England great in the mould of Martin Johnson et al given his stature and raw talent. Itoje at 23-years-old may be shy of the experience of his compatriots, but as a politics degree graduate there is no doubting this Saracen knows how to lead himself and has the ability to lead from the front with his performances and humility on and off the field, but maybe Jones will see this as an appointment for his successor well after the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Who would you be selecting as England Rugby’s next captain?