'Mad Dog' rejects idea of captaining England

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The Independent Online

With a large portrait of the Prince Regent adorning the wall above him, Lewis Moody is speaking on the subject of leading England. A legendarily madcap character somewhat taken aback to find himself vested with the hopes of a nation, yet determined to show he is up to the job – and dear old Georgie boy had a notably colourful life, too.

"Mad Dog" Moody will turn 32 this summer, and far from losing his bite he was widely credited last autumn with stand-out performances in an otherwise stop-start series for England. It's the bark which has altered. More recently Moody was mentioned in dispatches by the team manager, Martin Johnson; bracketed with Jonny Wilkinson as providing valuable "leadership" in support of the captain, Steve Borthwick. It prompted or emboldened some to say the blond flanker – and not the pathologically undemonstrative Borthwick – should be England's skipper. Here in this London pub, and eyeing a pint of stout which in the distant past of his first tour with the national side in 1998 he would surely have downed in one, Moody rejected the idea.

"For me, who has not really been a captain in my career, apart from a couple of spots in there with Leicester, it's not something about which I think 'yes, I want to be captain'," Moody said. "It's something that maybe comes naturally to people. When you see people like Borthers, Cozza [the former Leicester and England captain Martin Corry] and Johnno do it, it seems very natural. You have got to want to do it."

A cross-check with Leicester reveals Moody's recollection to be correct: he has captained the only club he has ever played for just twice in his 14 senior seasons: away to Leeds two years ago and again this season at home to Sale Sharks. Both were wins, by the way. Moody's opinion is that he is quite content to be a talkative lieutenant alongside the "good example of a great professional" that is Borthwick. "It's nice to be complimented," Moody said of Johnson's remark, "but leadership is not something you consciously ever do. As the older guys gradually filter out, you just find yourself drifting into that role. You take over that spot because other guys coming in are quieter or younger or have less experience." He added that "maybe it's about time"; a self-deprecating nod to shared knowledge of his younger self, once described (lovingly) by the ex-Leicester and now England forwards coach John Wells as a "muppet" who could get injured wrapping his Christmas presents.

But Moody has also won a Grand Slam and a World Cup with England in 2003 – this writer assisted him with his rugby magazine column at the time, and can vouch for both his likeable lust for life and his raging desire to succeed – and six league titles and two European Cups with Leicester.

The downside has been injuries: too many for Moody to be a mainstay of the England team post-2003. In the one now managed by his old team-mate Johnson, he has a chance – fingers crossed and kept clear of the gift-wrapping scissors – to steer the course to the next World Cup. "It's still a very new management team and playing squad," Moody said. "Johnno is not that long retired from playing so he still has a degree of a player's mentality and he is open to all suggestions."

One of Moody's fellow thirtysomething forwards, Simon Shaw, has said that the players reacted to the autumn results – defeats by Australia and New Zealand, and a close-run victory over Argentina – by asking the management to loosen the straitjacket of an over-prescriptive approach.

"A debrief is something every team does but you never hear about it," said Moody. "I wouldn't want to go into depth but it was sitting down together, between the autumn and now, and talking about the positives and negatives. All aspects of the game; the hotel, the food. If the players feel there's something that needs addressing, we'll sit down with Johnno and address it. Socially he's made sure everyone gets to know each other off the field, so gelling on the field becomes much easier. It's as he did when he was a player. He'd always speak up when something needed changing."

Only the forthcoming Six Nations matches – beginning with Wales at Twickenham on Saturday week – will tell whether England's style, which was criticised by their autumn opponents as being easy to defend against, has changed for the better. Moody is expected to start as the openside flanker. Clearly his relationship with "Johnno" and England's other former Tigers – some call them "the Leicester mafia" – is a long way removed from, say, that of John Terry or Frank Lampard with Fabio Capello. "You want the coach to know what it takes to win," said Moody. "For me, it's as simple as that."

Lewis Moody was speaking at Guinness' Bring It To Life campaign ahead of this year's RBS 6 Nations