Eddie Jones has revealed he does not see Maro Itoje as a future England captain — but in his latest book, he also admits that Owen Farrell is still a work in progress as a leader.
Halfway between World Cups, Jones has offered remarkably candid views about some of his players, in Leadership: Lessons from my Rugby Life.
When Itoje first emerged as a supreme rookie, he was soon identified as a Test skipper-in-waiting, but that impression is not shared by the man in charge of England, it appears.
England coach Eddie Jones has revealed he does not view Maro Itoje as a future Test captain
Jones (above) was commenting in his latest book ‘Leadership: Lessons from my Rugby Life’
Northampton struck in style at Ashton Gate as Courtney Lawes passed to Alex Mitchell on the loop and he delayed and delayed to create space before releasing George Furbank to score.
Bristol struggled to impose themselves against the Saints and, when they did find a way through, it took 13 Bears players to take part in a drive which ended with Jake Kerr touching down.
Up and over
Connacht v Ospreys went ahead in a Galway gale and footage showed a high kick by Jack Carty, the home No 10, being blown back over his head and into the Connacht half.
In Coventry, on grass, Jonny May wore leggings and scored for Gloucester against Wasps — whose fly-half, Jacob Umaga, was another leggings-clad try-scorer. The trend is growing.
Dean Richards epitomises the no-ego spirit at Newcastle. The Falcons’ director of rugby brought in bacon and bread to feed groundstaff who were clearing snow at Kingston Park.
In an illuminating passage of his book, Jones suggests that Warren Gatland was right to give the Lions captaincy to Alun Wyn Jones rather than Itoje.
He writes: ‘That seemed sensible to me. I might be wrong, but I am not sure Maro is a future England captain. He is going to be one of the great players, but Maro is very inward-looking.’
This point appears valid. Itoje is a phenomenal player — a consistent, world-class asset for club and country and a world XV player almost every time he plays.
But that doesn’t make him a natural captain. He is a supreme individual and should be left to concentrate on that focused personal work.
Jones’s observations about Itoje fly in the face of the assertion that captains merely have to lead by example. If that was the case, Itoje would be a perfect choice. But leadership is about so much more than that.
It is about having empathy, being a people person and an astute man-manager; someone who knows when to speak and when to step back, when to comfort, when to cajole, when to let rip.
Many of the best captains are respected characters who those around them can relate to and rally around.
It doesn’t hurt if they are popular, which is why Ellis Genge has made such an impact at Leicester and why Courtney Lawes proved such an effective understudy for Farrell during England’s autumn campaign.
Lawes is a calm figure who knows when to flick the intensity switch. The word is that it was a happy camp under his command.
At 32, the Northampton forward is in the form of his life and, while he did not covet the England captaincy, he has inadvertently turned himself into a prime candidate to fill the role until the next World Cup. He is respected, liked and experienced.
Farrell may not be fit for the start of the Six Nations and his England place is up for debate, as Marcus Smith and Henry Slade dovetailed so well against South Africa.
The Saracens playmaker has been leading the national team for three-and-a-half years, but Jones explains in his book how some rough edges are still being smoothed.
Jones also discussed frequent skipper Owen Farrell needing to work on his ‘softer skills’
‘Owen Farrell is developing well as a leader,’ he writes. ‘He just needs to practise being a leader as much as he can. He’s quite an aggressive leader, and captains of this type can find it difficult to adjust to the nuances of the role.
‘They have to develop their softer skills — to empathise with their team-mates and bring them together into a cohesive unit and, also, to manage the referee.’
England have tailored training sessions to help Farrell develop his captaincy repertoire and arranged for him to be mentored by the likes of Will Carling and former Australia rugby league captain Cameron Smith.
Yet Lawes has shown he already possesses the ‘softer skills’: empathy and an ability to connect and communicate with team-mates and officials.
For the near future at least, Lawes — quite suddenly and unexpectedly — has emerged as the right man to lead England, rather than ‘inward’ Itoje or the ever-aggressive Farrell.
Courtney Lawes (centre) was a successful and popular captain in the Autumn internationals
The 2025 World Cup could be ground-breaking
The World Cup host selection process has been overhauled and here’s hoping the new system is no longer undermined by boardroom politics.
It all seems pre-ordained now, with Australia to stage the 2027 tournament and the 2031 edition destined to go to the USA.
A return to the southern hemisphere will be long overdue and the American venture will appeal to commercial factions. It’s just a shame that Argentina can’t present a financially viable alternative to complement their greater rugby heritage.
Meanwhile, it is welcome that the RFU did not follow through with a bid for 2031 and will instead focus on delivering a ground-breaking women’s World Cup in 2025.
That could be a transformative showpiece for the female game, but only if the funding gulf between England and many of their nominal rivals is reduced.
The World Cup host selection process has been overhauled and here’s hoping the new system is no longer undermined
The Last Word
World Rugby’s decision to alter eligibility rules to allow players to switch countries should be applauded. It is a huge boost to the Pacific island nations for their contribution to the game at club and Test level.
Samoa and Tonga are likely to particularly benefit. At the next World Cup, in England’s pool, there could be a dangerous Samoa team featuring ex-All Blacks Steven Luatua, Lima Sopoaga and Julian Savea, and possibly former England wing Denny Solomona, just released by Sale.
Imagine what Tonga could do, with a backline featuring Malakai Fekitoa, George Moala, Israel Folau and Charles Piutau.
This reform will broaden the power base of the sport at a stroke. The Pacific sides could threaten the elite and that is a glorious prospect. If England lose a few men from their fringes, never mind, they have the resources to cope.
But if a powerful nation tries to tap up targets from weaker countries who might qualify, they should expect to incur the wrath of the rugby community, for ignoring the spirit of this rule change.
Former All-Black Steven Luatua (right) could be part of Samoa’s side at the next World Cup