Rugby: The Wallabies Captaincy Conundrum

In the aftermath of the departure of Ben Mowen from Australian rugby (let’s face it the quicker the ARU jettison him from anything to do with the Wallabies the better), a massive question that remains is that of who will be the captain of the Wallabies come the first test of 2014 on 7 June against France.

Looking into the crystal ball for a moment, that team that runs out onto Lang Park on 7 June could well include three former captains in its ranks in the form of James Horwill, Will Genia and David Pocock.  One suspects that the leader of the team out onto the park on that day will be one of those three men.

Before anointing one of those men as captain of the Wallabies it is important though to closely consider the claims of Quade Cooper to the highest office in Australian rugby.  When Ewan McKenzie named Cooper as the team’s vice captain during the European tour there were many a curled eyebrow and social media was replete with negativity from those who sit firmly in the “anti-Cooper camp”.  Coach McKenzie though has been overt in his praise for Cooper, particularly regarding his ability to play out a game plan and it has been broadly reported that those in power at the ARU consider him a full time captain of the future.

An important word in that last sentence is the future.  Quade Cooper has only been the vice captain of the Wallabies for a handful of test matches and only made his captaincy debut for Queensland in a tour match against the British and Irish Lions this last winter.  It can not be forgotten that it is not twelve months since Cooper was firmly on the outer with the Wallabies set up and it is not twenty-four months since he was describing the culture of the team as “toxic”.  There is another consideration here: how the appointment of Cooper would likely play out with the fans.  He is a dividing figure among Wallabies fans and now, possible more than even, a captain who will unite all fans behind the team is what is required.

I would keep Cooper as the vice captain behind whoever is tapped on the shoulder to take on the Wallabies captaincy.

That leads us back to the choice of the original three as captain: who of Genia, Horwill or Pocock should run out at the front of team on 7 June? Each of Genia, Horwill or Pocock have strong competing claims to be returned to their former role as captain of the team.

James Horwill is the long time captain of Queensland and has lead that team through a period of resurgence under the stewardship of Ewen McKenzie.  It must be pointed out that Horwill has spent a lot of time out of the team due to injury and much of the time during which Queensland’s resurgence has taken place has been whilst he has been sitting on the pine.  On the positive side of things McKenzie and Horwill obviously work very well together.

Will Genia is the long time vice captain of Queensland and has taken on the role of captain on each occasion at which James Horwill has been out of action with injury.  He has also taken on the same role at the Wallabies level when Horwill has been injured in the past.  He is the team’s scrum half and some of Australia’s greatest captains have been scrum halves in the past.  A large question mark though hangs over Genia and that is what his form will be like come 7 June: his position as the permanent number 9 in the team has been under threat from others through the Super ranks (Nic White being the main candidate).

David Pocock has been out for a long time with injury and is enjoying, apparently, his first full pre-season of training since 2007.  There is a significant road block in the path of his immediate return to the team in the form of Michael Hooper who has taken the number 7 jersey in Pocock’s absence and (despite the valid claims of Liam Gill) made it is his own.  A big pointer to whether Pocock is in the frame to be Wallabies captain may well be whether he is names as the Brumbies captain for the 2014 Super Rugby campaign.  He is a leader of men and, pre-injury, was a clear second in the race for the best player in the world behind some bloke called McCaw.

Taking each of these claims into consideration, who comes out on top? I think one of the principal things to consider is which of these players is going to play the most minutes.  If he is in the team that person seems to most likely to be Genia but there is a question mark, for mine, as to whether he will be in the team. Horwill is injury prone and could only be considered if he played every game of the Super 15 before the first team.  Similarly Pocock could only be considered if his return from injury saw him return to his old form and he played every game of Super 15.

All of that leaves me with no clear answer other than to say that the Wallabies captain will come from one of those three players AND that their form in Super 15 rugby will be determinative of who ultimately named captain. I, for one, will be watching with keen interest each players’ performances.


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