Robshaw poised to retain England captaincy
September 25, 2012
Quins flanker Chris Robshaw looks set to retain the England captaincy for their end-of-year internationals © Getty Images
England head coach Stuart Lancaster will not be naming his captain for the four autumn internationals yet, but has said enough to suggest that incumbent Chris Robshaw remains the front runner.
Lancaster, who was speaking at the launch of England's new BMW Performance Academy on Tuesday, said: "We have not decided this far ahead. We'll look nearer to the time at what is available to us and at issues of form and fitness. Chris has done a fantastic job for us and there's no reason why he shouldn't be strongly considered. But there is always the possibility that he might get injured, as he was for the third Test in South Africa."
A possible further hint came in his comment that Robshaw's Harlequins have been outstanding so far in the Premiership. The squad will be named on October 25, with the first match against Fiji on November 10.
Lancaster came close to reiterating predecessor Martin Johnson's frequent contention that captaincy is overrated - always a problematic argument for Johnson, since captaincy was his main credential for the job - but instead argued that: "Captaincy is a big job, but a strong leadership group is equally important. Numbers 9 and 10 and the line-out caller matter a great deal. You can have the best captain in the world, but if they're by themselves and you haven't got people who can run the game from number nine or organize the line-out it won't matter."
He pointed out that when hooker Dylan Hartley replaced the injured Robshaw for the third Test in South Africa, "We had a seamless transition from one leader to another. We missed Chris on the field, but Dylan did a great job as captain."
Lancaster said that one of his main recent tasks had been reviewing the structure of the England management team, taking advantage of his first opportunity to pause for thought since being upgraded from his previous interim role in April, and also considering how to integrate newly-recruited attack coach Mike Catt.
He said: "We have an integrated team, so it is never as simple as Andy (Farrell) only doing defence or Graham (Rowntree) focussing exclusively on the forwards.
"But Mike brings strengths that I don't have in terms of giving detail to players in developing superior attacking skills. That's not to say that he won't have other roles, but that will be a particularly important part of his job."
In discussing England's perceived lack of creativity, Lancaster said that he continued to cherish the aim of including at least two and if possible three ball-players in his back division: "You need a balance. If you have five ball-players weighing 90kg apiece, you'll struggle to cross the opposition gain-line, or to stop them. You need physical power to cross the gain-line, but you need the footballers to create space."
Lancaster and his coaching team will be going to South Africa to see the Springboks play their final Rugby Championship match against the All Blacks on October 5. Asked to draw lessons from what he has seen of the southern hemisphere championship so far, he said, "one very clear lesson is that you don't underestimate Argentina".
Looking to the challenges of autumn he said: "We'll be playing three sides who play in very different ways and will demand three entirely different game plans from us. Australia have the broadest attacking game, while South Africa are more direct. New Zealand are clearly the quality side, but have been pushed very hard by both South Africa and Argentina. We'll need to be able to adapt from game to game."
Looking towards selection availability he said that Alex Corbisiero, Ben Youngs and Louis Deacon should be playing again in October, but that Tom Croft was a little further away from fitness. Hooker Rob Webber will not be available, but Lancaster said that he was far likelier to elevate one of England's young hookers than to persuade Lee Mears to come out of retirement to plug the gap.
"Joe Gray is getting a lot of big game experience with his club and Tom Youngs is beginning to get opportunities," he said. "We need to accelerate their development, so it makes sense to bring them on."
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