Leadership is one of those subjects you consider only when a team are losing. England are flying, so the significant shake-up in the past 12 months may have escaped attention.

The most obvious symbol of that is Owen Farrell taking over from Dylan Hartley as captain, a handover which was smoothly handled. Even when Hartley returns, this is Farrell's team now. All the doubters regarding his perceived petulance and spikiness are slowly fading away. The added responsibility has enhanced his game.

Just as significant as the change of captain is the absence of so many of his original lieutenants. As well as Hartley (97 caps), head coach Eddie Jones started this Six Nations without James Haskell (77), Chris Robshaw (66), Dan Cole (85), Danny Care (84), Jonathan Joseph (40) and Mike Brown (72) in his squad. Some of those were Jones's choices, some were not, but that is 521 caps which was missing for a mammoth trip to Dublin.

Now they must to go to Cardiff a week tomorrow without two more senior players in Maro Itoje and Mako Vunipola. Itoje seems an obvious leader but Mako may be just as influential. Sometimes leaders are vocal, speak their mind a lot, control proceedings and team meetings. Then you have these silent-assassin types, who are invariably front rowers in my experience. By saying nothing and doing everything, they become a leader in their own right.


Leadership is just everybody in their team doing their job. As captain, you let them get on with doing their job and, occasionally, if someone is slacking, you just point it out. I think leadership is being true to yourself as a team and as an individual and performing as best you possibly can. Sometimes in England we can get hung up on the cult of the captain. We want our captain to be like a general rallying his troops to go over the top with some great Churchillian speech. In my experience, it does not work like that and if you ask Martin Johnson about it, he would snort at it. The importance of captaincy is a bit of an urban myth.

England have a strong captain in Farrell but the collective leadership and environment is more important than the quality of a single team talk. Leadership can take many different forms. If you are playing well, then everyone is a leader. You can have great orators, guys who have the been-there-and-done-it badge and even someone like Jack Nowell who can come off the bench and inspire everyone with his work rate.

I think you can see someone such as Henry Slade, who is naturally quite quiet, really growing into a leadership role. As a young lad, when you arrive at an England team meeting, you think: "I have an idea here but I will tell someone when we leave the room." There was a point in my career, somewhere between 20 and 30 caps, when I thought: "There is an opportunity here to help the team."

There is a definite switch that flicks in your head between someone who is absorbing the environment to someone impacting it.

The real question is how comfortable will Jones be in leaving all those caps at home for the World Cup. Cole has come back in from the cold, but have some of these other guys served their purpose in the Jones project?

Probably the most interesting question is what will Jones do when Hartley is fit again, given that Jamie George has not missed a beat so far? England are no longer reliant upon Hartley's leadership but you can't buy the experience of 97 caps.