History shows Warburton can flourish without captaincy

Rob Howley knows how it feels. Wales’ interim head coach, who made the biggest call of the run-up to the Six Nations by replacing Sam Warburton as captain with Alun Wyn Jones, was once on the receiving end of a similar decision.

It was in 2000, just before the first Six Nations and following on from the previous year’s World Cup. Howley, who had led Wales through the last two Five Nations, was summoned to see coach Graham Henry. Henry gave him a message that he was half-expecting: that his form was being affected by the captaincy, which was being passed on to prop forward Dai Young.

Each man faced a distinctive challenge in 2000: Young had to deal with the captaincy and Howley had to cope with the loss of status. A similar challenge of adjustment now faces Sam Warburton, Alun Wyn Jones and the players and coaches around them.

This is not always the case when captains are changed. The cleanest break comes if the old skipper retires, as Martin Johnson did after England won the 2003 World Cup. Unsurprisingly, coach Sir Clive Woodward reverted to Lawrence Dallaglio, who had been his original preference as England’s leader and led them through Woodward’s first two tournaments, in 1998 and 1999.

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Johnson, by contrast, always had former captains in his team. Dallaglio was present when Johnson led England through the 1999 World Cup. An injury meant that he missed the 2000 Six Nations and leadership passed to Matt Dawson, who did well enough to create serious doubt as to the ultimate destination of the job.

Dallaglio was a fixed point and Dawson a consistent squad member — in fierce competition with Kyran Bracken for the start at scrum-half — during Johnson’s three seasons as Six Nations skipper, concluding with the resounding Grand Slam of 2003.

Change may also be an attempt to restore team fortunes. It is no fluke that the country most prone to changes of leader in the Six Nations era has been Scotland, who have sent 13 different captains to the 18 pre-tournament media launches. Current skipper Greig Laidlaw is the first to make a third appearance.

Italy and Ireland, stabilised by the long terms of office of Sergio Parisse and Brian O’Driscoll respectively, have had only six different representatives and France, thanks to the long spells enjoyed by Fabien Pelous and Thierry Dusautoir, have had seven.

Injury ends many reigns, although a well-established leader who regains fitness and form is likely to be restored, as Parisse was by Italy in 2011.

A new coach may want a new captain, as Nick Mallett did when he took on the Italy job before the 2008 tournament. Parisse’s leadership of Italy is now so permanent a feature of the rugby landscape that it comes as a jolt to be reminded that his initial elevation was a surprise.

Perhaps the most common explanation for losing the captaincy is a mix of declining form and intensifying competition for places, meaning that a skipper who was formerly nailed-on no longer looks a certain choice. Warburton falls into this category.

There is no suggestion that his attributes as a leader are receding, but the form of Justin Tipuric on the open side combined with the rise of dynamic young back row hopefuls like Ross Moriarty and Thomas Young means he is no longer a certain choice.

As Warburton looks to his future with Wales, he does not have to look far back for an example of how to respond. Ryan Jones did not quit when a similar mix of factors cost him the captaincy during the 2010 autumn internationals, but instead continued to compete for a Wales place for the next four Six Nations tournaments — including Warburton’s first three as leader — selflessly fitting into a range of roles and returning to the captaincy for three matches during the title-winning campaign of 2013.

Rob Howley (R) is involved in his first Six Nations campaign in charge of Wales, while Alun Wyn Jones (L) will be captain. Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Other examples also show that a captain reduced to the ranks can still continue to be a huge asset to the team. Take England’s Grand Slam last season. New leader Dylan Hartley was confident enough not to feel threatened by the continued presence of immediate predecessor Chris Robshaw, while Robshaw, like Ryan Jones, responded to demotion by showing selfless commitment to the team.

Two of France’s three Six Nations Grand Slams have been achieved by teams in which a new captain was buttressed by his predecessors. The team of 2002 featured the three players who between them led France for a decade.

The consecutive titles won by Ireland during Paul O’Connell’s second spell in office, 2014 and 2015, also owed something to his immediate predecessors. Jamie Heaslip, captain in 2013, fitted seamlessly back into the ranks alongside, for the first year, O’Driscoll.

None of this is too surprising. England head coach Eddie Jones is the latest coach to point out that the best teams have many leaders, even if there is only one captain. England in 2016, the Irish teams of the previous two seasons and the French of 2002 and 2010 were teams of all-round accomplishment who might have won under any competent leadership.

Examples from the lower end of the championship offer less encouragement. Whether or not the sending-off of Alessandro Troncon against Ireland in Italy’s first match of the 2001 championship reflected disappointment at losing the captaincy to Alessandro Moscardi is a matter for speculation, but the unlucky Moscardi went on to record consecutive championship whitewashes. Magnificent leader though Parisse is, he has yet to match the consecutive victories achieved by Marco Bortolami in his last season as captain.

Scotland’s carousel of captains, including two separate spells for Chris Paterson, has revolved to limited effect, while Dai Young’s first outing as leader in place of Howley saw Wales routed 36-3 by France in their first championship match at the Millennium Stadium.

Howley has admitted that he “struggled to come to terms with what had happened” and that “losing the captaincy took some getting over”. Young records in his memoirs that the loss of the captaincy appeared to harm Howley’s form more than the responsibility ever had and their personal friendship was put “under considerable strain”.

But their friendship survived, and Howley’s form revived to the extent that he outlasted Young in international rugby. He played 12 more Six Nations matches spread across three seasons; he was first-choice scrum-half on the 2001 Lions tour of Australia; and he went on to play for Wales under the captaincy of Scott Quinnell, who succeeded Young in 2002.

Chris Robshaw has responded well to losing the England captaincy. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images,)

The present circumstances appear a little different. Warburton’s interview with The Times shows that the change comes close to the classic football formula of “mutual consent” and that he is far more relieved than disappointed to be back in the ranks.

Alun Wyn Jones survived the media launch, which is among the first chores of the new Six Nations captain, with some ease and summoned perhaps the biggest laugh of the day with his incredulity when asked whether it was possible to learn the skills of captaincy by reading books about it.

It was, to be fair to the journalist concerned, an attempt to extract something a little different from a day that is wont to descend into the mass-production of platitude. But there was a certain irony in the question being directed at Jones, since not even O’Connell can have come into national captaincy with superior credentials.

It is not just a matter of more than 100 caps and an assured place not only in Wales’s current starting line-up, but also in the debate about its finest forwards of all time. The surprise is that this has taken so long.

From the start, he looked a national leader in the making — smart and articulate — and it would have been no great shock had he got the job ahead of either Ryan Jones or Sam Warburton.

Maybe Warren Gatland, who made both choices, was not as fully convinced as others of his claims to the job. And neither appointment was exactly a bust.

But the delay means that Alun Wyn Jones comes into the job with those innate qualities and his playing record buttressed by a serious leadership record — he is now in his seventh season as captain of the Ospreys and is one of only four men in British rugby history to have led the Lions to a series-deciding victory.

Little seems to worry him, and it is just as well. Wales are in transition in terms of both playing style and personnel. The opposition looks tough, even by the usual Six Nations standards, with two teams of proven quality and the other three showing marked signs of improvement.

How well he, Warburton and Howley do could have a serious bearing not only on the Six Nations campaign about to start, but the composition and fortunes of the Lions party, and the shape of the Welsh team for some time to come.

Success would make Howley odds-on favourite to succeed Warren Gatland as head coach in 2019. Anything less will imperil those chances and make it possible that Wales will look elsewhere — maybe, once again, in the direction of Young.

Source Article from http://www.espn.co.uk/rugby/story/_/id/18611814/history-shows-sam-warburton-flourish-captaincy-wales-six-nations
History shows Warburton can flourish without captaincy
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