Fitzpatrick: pick a team not a captain


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The Independent Online

Deciding on who should lead his new-look England out of the Murrayfield tunnel on Saturday is an issue that should not long trouble Stuart Lancaster, according to Sean Fitzpatrick, a man who knows more than most about captaining an international side.

The art of selecting a captain has long divided northern and southern hemispheres. In cricket and rugby the notion on either side of the Tasman Sea has, by and large, been to choose the team and then the man to lead it.

"I wouldn't be too worried about the captain," said Fitzpatrick, who led New Zealand in a record 51 Tests. "What Stuart Lancaster has to do is pick the best players and from that the captain will stick out.

"In the Six Nations you can't afford to carry a player who is not worthy of his position purely because you think he is a better captain. The Hartleys and the Robshaws of this world have to earn their position on the team. You have to pick the best players, because you can't go into a competition against world-class players without your best guy in that position."

Fitzpatrick received the All Blacks captaincy in 1992 in a situation not altogether dissimilar to the one England find themselves in now. New Zealand had emerged from a disappointing World Cup – by their standards, a semi-final defeat to Australia was considered well below par – and turned to a new coach, Laurie Mains, who instigated a clear-out of the ranks.

"They shredded a number of players but they also gave them the option of being willing to change," said Fitzpatrick. "They said to me 'If you are willing to change then we will give you another opportunity' and I said 'Yes'. A few guys didn't change and they got cast aside, or worse still weren't even given the opportunity to change."

That is a fate facing a number of the players involved in England's disastrous World Cup campaign, but the new regime should beware who they discard in the rush to move on. "Look at Nick Easter – he's the best No 8 in the country but he's not been given a chance," said Fitzpatrick. "Sure, he's 33 years old. Will he be around for the next World Cup – who knows? But look at Brad Thorn – 37 and he won a World Cup. Easter's in great nick. He didn't have a great World Cup but at the moment he's playing his best rugby. You need a balance and that's what the All Blacks had at the World Cup. They had youth and experience and you need that experience."

Experience should also count when it comes to deciding on the long-term incumbent for the England coaching job. "Wayne Smith is an outstanding candidate and it amazes me no one has picked up John Kirwan, in terms of coaching ability. But in terms of being able to deal with everything that goes on off the field as well, it is Nick Mallett."

More immediately, Fitzpatrick regards England as only fourth favourites to claim the Six Nations crown. He said: "Look at the World Cup and you would say Ireland, Wales and France are the leading sides. The interesting thing is going to be seeing how Wales kick on from the World Cup."

Sean Fitzpatrick is a member of the Laureus World Sports Academy, a unique association of 47 sporting legends. The Laureus World Sports Awards take place at Central Hall, Westminster on 6 February.