Robshaw the man to lead England
January 5, 2012
England's interim head coach Stuart Lancaster has vowed to restore his side's battered reputation © Getty Images
Stuart Lancaster has wasted little time in shaking things up since taking charge of England and he would really impress me if he adopted a similar approach to selection and handed Harlequins' Chris Robshaw the captaincy for the Six Nations.
There may be some concern about making someone with limited international experience the skipper but Robshaw's form demands his selection and this is the perfect time to take that sort of gamble. England are starting from scratch and when you are having such a massive clear out you need someone to help you set the tone and Robshaw could be that man.
Some may question whether he can handle the pressure but I wouldn't have a problem with him going straight into the team having missed out on the Rugby World Cup. The only question for me would be what position he would play. Tom Croft has got to get the nod at No.6 then it is a case of whether you for Tom Wood at openside and Robshaw at No.8 - or Robshaw at No.7 and someone else at the back of the scrum.
That decision will fall to Lancaster who is in an enviable position because whatever happens he knows he is going to have some kind of role with the Rugby Football Union. The worst case scenario is that the Six Nations doesn't go well and the RFU opt for someone else and he goes back to his previous role with added experience should a similar opportunity arise in the future. If things go well there is every chance that this coaching team could be made permanent.
I was delighted to see Graham Rowntree retain his place in the coaching set-up as I believe losing him back to the domestic stage would have been a disaster. He is a brilliant coach and it is fantastic that he has got a bit more responsibility as England move forward. He is aware of those parts of the game that are not his strengths and has worked extremely hard to educate himself and with England adopting a youthful approach, I don't think there is anyone better to bring the kids on and give them confidence.
Andy Farrell is another fantastic appointment and he will bring a lot in terms of the culture and winning attitude. I am sure he will be superb when it comes to individual skills and defensive work but I can't help but feel the team would benefit as a whole with someone else taking on a strategic attacking role.
That is not to say that I don't think Farrell can do the job - I am convinced he can - I just think that it is a massive job and a four-man team would have been better. Mike Catt would fit the bill and I am sure he would have an excellent relationship with Farrell with no danger of two coaches pulling in opposite directions.
I am hoping Farrell will be coaching son Owen in a new-look England back division. I would like to see him thrown in at 12, where England have missed a ball player, with Toby Flood retaining the fly-half role. Ideally, like Jonny Wilkinson, Farrell would be able to find his Test match feet at inside centre but should Floody be ruled out by injury as it has been reported then I would have no worries about handing Farrell the playmaker role. He may be inexperienced but people will understand why you are doing it and be a little more forgiving if the results don't go your way.
Brad Barritt is someone else who has been unlucky in recent years and deserves a chance but I hope Manu Tuilagi returns to fitness as I would like to see a Farrell-Tuilagi partnership in midfield, although it looks as though we may have to wait to see that. With Andrew Sheridan out, there is at least one propping spot up for grabs while Matt Stevens' future may depend on the extent of the expected youth policy.
We talked a lot about Joe Marler last year and while I don't think he has been as good this year, he is a decent option but will find competition in the form of London Irish's Alex Corbisiero and Max Lahiff. Mike Brown deserves another go and I would play him at fullback and Ben Foden on the wing with Chris Ashton on the other wing.
One of Lancaster's first key decisions was to drop Danny Care from his plans for the Six Nations in the wake of another drink-related incident. I really like Danny, I think he is good for the England squad and I don't think he is one of the disruptive influences we have heard about at the World Cup. I just think he has been exceptionally silly. You could forgive him the misdemeanour last month but to back that up with a drink driving charge is unforgiveable. He does not deserve to be a member of the squad for this Six Nations but to be fair to the lad he has come out and said that himself and taken it on the chin.
The decision to move the England training camp from Portugal to Leeds was another major call and a wise one too. It sends a message to the players, particularly the younger guys. They will not be slumming it by any means but they need to be aware that if you are going to win something then you have got to tough it out - and there are not many tougher places to train than in Leeds on a cold January day. It all helps to keep things real and enhance the positive atmosphere they are generating.
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Ben Kay is a co-commentator for ESPN
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