First orders: Five England captains look back on their maiden voyages

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The Independent Online
Bob Weighill

Captained England for only time on his fourth and final international game against France in Paris. England were beaten 15-0.

"The game was postponed from a month earlier because of frost and we lost to an excellent team. I captained most of the sides I played in - Harlequins, RAF, Barbarians and Cheshire - so I was used to the role. I was a commanding officer, so it wasn't too different from doing my job. It was a very enjoyable experience because we all knew each other well even though it was accepted that I was in charge. The captain was also the coach then and the team got together only on Thursday or Friday to agree a few signals. But we were more flexible in those days about playing left or right, tight-head or loose, open-side or blind. You gave a rousing team talk, but were also aware of players' idiosyncracies."

Record: Four England caps 1947-48; Secretary of the Rugby Football Union 1973-86; Secretary of International Rugby Football Board 1986-89.

Ron Jacobs

Captained England for the first of his two internationals in charge in 1964 against France in Paris. England won 6-3.

"The job was much less high- profile in those days, and I took it on right at the end of my international career. As far as coaching and preparation were concerned, you were left to run the show yourself with only a bit of advice from the chairman of selectors. I captained my club and county for many seasons, so I knew what the job involved, especially as I had played under some very good England captains. I discussed tactics with the players - our opponents' strengths and weaknesses - but we didn't go on the field with such a preconceived plan as sides tend to today. The backs had to organise themselves if I was tied up in the scrums, but fortunately they had the experience to do that."

Record: Capped 29 times at prop by England 1956-64; Served as an England selector during the 1970s; President of the RFU 1983-84.

Bill Beaumont

Captained England for the first time in a run of 22 internationals in charge against France in Paris in 1978. England lost 15-6.

"Parc des Princes is not the easiest place to make your debut as captain. France had an excellent side, yet we played pretty well and only lost to two late tries. I suppose it was a damage limitation exercise - we were determined not to disgrace ourselves and ran them close for 70 minutes. We also took them on physically from the first minute and the experience stood us in good stead for 1980, the Grand Slam year, when we won in Paris. Beforehand, I reminded the players of their responsibilities to the jersey but once the whistle blows you concentrate mainly on your own game. It was a fantastic experience, but I enjoyed it more when I was established and had more confidence in my ability."

Record: Capped 34 times in England's second row 1975-82; Seven British Lions caps 1977-80; British Lions and England Grand Slam captain 1980.

Peter Wheeler

Captained England for the first of seven times against Tonga during the 1981 tour because Beaumont was unfit. England won 34-12.

"It was more difficult motivating the players because everything was so unusual - if we'd been playing at Twickenham they would have had no difficulty focusing. But there was only one smallish stand on the ground, and the changing-rooms were padlocked when we got there. Then we had to go up to the top of the stand to meet the King of Tonga as he was too big (24st) and immobile to come down to the pitch. We were expected to win easily, which put extra pressure on me. It needed a bit of improvisation to keep the players' minds concentrated on the job. When you're the captain, there is no hiding place. The emotions are laid bare, but you must remain true to yourself."

Record: Capped as England's hooker 41 times 1975-84; Seven British Lions caps 1977-80; Chief executive of Leicester RFC and a director of Epruc.

Nigel Melville

Captained England on his debut against Australia at Twickenham in 1984 and led his country eight other times. England lost 19-3.

"I found out I was captain only a few days before the match. When we assembled neither centre, Rob Lozowski and Bryan Barley, had met each other before - things are a bit different these days! I talked to people individually, motivating each player in the way that best suited him. Once the game started, it passed by so quickly. Stuart Barnes, who was also making his debut, and I couldn't believe the speed of it all. Scrum- half is the ideal position for a captain because you're at the heart of everything. Talking to the media was a new experience but the speech at the dinner was no problem. Defeat was disappointing, but Australia went on to do the Grand Slam which made me feel a bit better."

Record: Capped 13 times at scrum-half by England, 1984-88, in a career blighted by injuries; a British Lion in 1983; at present director of rugby at Wasps.

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