With the news from Saracens that England icon Owen Farrell is taking a breather from Test rugby for the 2024 Six Nations, it leaves head coach Steve Borthwick with a captaincy conundrum as he starts to finalise his plans for the campaign.
With long-term England leaders such as Tom Curry (injured) and Courtney Lawes (retired) unavailable to take the armband from Farrell, it means that Borthwick must look elsewhere for the man to lead the team out against Italy in Rome in February.
Planet Rugby’s potential candidates
George Ford (Sale Sharks)
Ford is the obvious candidate having performed the role of vice captain in the matches he played during the World Cup. With Farrell also missing from England’s midfield, Ford is the probable replacement at fly-half for the Saracen moving forward, although Saints’ Fin Smith and George Furbank, and Harlequins’ Marcus Smith will also be pressing hard for inclusion.
If Borthwick goes down the route of the Sale Shark leading the game plan at 10, then it’s wholly likely that he’ll also add the formal responsibilities to Ford’s workload, making him the frontrunner to succeed his boyhood pal Farrell in all aspects of the latter’s role. Odds: Evens
Ellis Genge (Bristol Bears)
Genge offers so much to England in terms of his tireless carrying and his absolute commitment to the white shirt he wears, but the fundamental issue that remains is that he’s not in the top two or three scrummagers available to Borthwick. Sure, he’s a serviceable Test prop that is fine in most situations but there’s been moments when his tight work has been exposed in recent times, notably in the World Cup semi-final where he struggled to cope with the power of the ‘Bomb Squad.’
Nevertheless, learning the propping art is a long journey and at 28 he is yet to reach his powerful prime as a loosehead. There’s no doubt he’s a frontrunner for the role, providing he remains England’s starting man in the number one shirt. Odds: 2/1
Jamie George (Saracens)
Now maturing into one of the world’s foremost Test hookers, the man known to all as ‘Jinx’ is very much part of England’s senior leadership group and will be an essential part of the on pitch decision making moving forward into the next World Cup cycle.
However, the Sarries front-rower is into his salad days as a Test performer and at the age of 33 is unlikely to make the World Cup trip to Australia in 2027, so if it falls his way then it’s a caretaker appointment, keeping the armband warm until his Saracens skipper is ready to re-enter the fray. However, there’s no doubt that George would give the role his all, fulfilling that important quality of being the best player available in his position. Odds: 3/1
Maro Itoje (Saracens)
The big lock is approaching something near his personal best again on the pitch after delivering world-class performances throughout the World Cup. For some time, he was touted as a potential England skipper, but his personality, something of an intellectual observer in a group situation, perhaps counted against him moving into the role during Eddie Jones’ tenure.
Nevertheless, like George, he’s a shoo-in on the teamsheet for the Six Nations, but there’s also the thought that loading him up with distractions when he’s peaking again as a player might not be the most ideal thing. He remains an option, but marginally behind his teammate George and the front runner, Ford. Odds: 3/1
🚨 England fly-half Owen Farrell will miss the 2024 Six Nations. pic.twitter.com/XKAp3CUjnw
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) November 29, 2023
Alex Mitchell (Northampton Saints)
A man who started the World Cup as an afterthought yet cemented his place as the conduit between England’s backs and forwards, the Saints scrummie is no stranger to the captaincy role, having led his club side on a number of occasions.
With half-back a perfect place to understand the on-pitch dynamics of a game, Mitchell’s rugby intellect is clear for all to see. Is it a step too far too early? Perhaps, and he also has Raffi Quirke and Jack van Poortvliet breathing down his neck to reclaim their Test berths. It may be that Mitchell joins the senior leadership team as a work in progress but he certainly remains an option should England need him to step up to the plate once again. Odds: 10/1
Ollie Chessum (Leicester Tigers)
England will build their pack around the massive presence of Chessum for years to come. There’s absolutely no doubt that, fitness and form allowing, he’s in for a long run in the Test side and there’s equally little question over his leadership potential moving forward.
But like Mitchell, would you want to burden him with leadership at this stage in his personal evolution? Again, he’s one for the future and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him named as vice captain for England moving forward, but for now, he remains an outsider with potential rather than a genuine candidate. Odds: 15/1