Stuart lancaster has placed his faith in Chris Robshaw to be the man to lead England into World Cup year.
The openside flanker has been in the spotlight ever since Lancaster named him his first captain three years ago, despite having only one cap to his name.
Robshaw has also now lost the captaincy at club level, with England prop Joe Marler taking over the armband at Harlequins.
The presence of Steffon Armitage – arguably the best No 7 in the world but not in contention for England because he plays for Toulon in France – has heaped further pressure on Robshaw.
But after naming Robshaw as his captain for tomorrow night’s mouthwatering Six Nations opener against Wales in Cardiff, with Marler in the front row, Lancaster has once again defended his captaincy choice.
“I could see the logic behind ‘Quins making Marler captain,” said Lancaster, whose side kick off a home World Cup on September 18. “We discussed it, Conor O’Shea and I.
“In Conor’s mind he was wanting to take a little bit of the load off Chris Robshaw. I think Chris has benefited from that.
“He has been able to concentrate on his game, and while he hasn’t played that much rugby as others between the QBE (autumn) and Six Nations, I think he’s been fresher coming into camp without managing the dual demands of club and international captaincy.
“The other win was the development of Joe as a leader. But I’d also put Ben Youngs in that category. And Billy Twelvetrees and James Haskell have done the same.
“I’ve been delighted these guys have been getting the captaincy of their club teams because you can see when they come back into camp that level of leadership experience developing.”
On Marler’s inclusion, Lancaster added: “He was exceptional for us in November.
“We have a way of rewarding performance; we give a little recognition (award) for contribution made in games and Joe Marler has picked it up three or four times, particularly for his defensive technique and the dominance of his tackling.
“I think he’s matured on the back of the captaincy of Harlequins. That’s helped him become a more effective leader as well.”
For his part, Robshaw was captain at the Millennium Stadium in 2013 when their grand slam dreams ended in a 30-3 rout.
And despite going into tomorrow night’s game with a cap disparity of 290 between the two teams – 648 in Wales’ starting XV to 358 for England – Robshaw insists they are more seasoned this time around.
“We’re further down the road and have come a long way since that day. We have more experience now,” said Robshaw.
“Unfortunately in life you learn from your experiences – the good, the bad and the ugly. That was an ugly afternoon for us and to have the biggest loss to Wales on your CV is not nice.
“But it’s about how you bounce back from those days. We didn’t dip after that game. We continued to evolve and in the next campaign we built again.
“As a squad, every time we meet up, we seem to be better than we were before. Guys understand the structures better, the lineout moves, the plays, the patterns.
“Even when faced by adversity and different types of pressure, because we’ve been through that, we’ve got that experience and understanding of each other.
“We know the intensity that’s going to come our way – the passion and hostility of England going down to Cardiff and playing Wales.”
There were few surprises in Lancaster’s opening team selection of the Six Nations yesterday, largely due to the huge amount of injuries.
George Ford starts at fly-half alongside Ben Youngs in the only department where England hold the experience advantage, with that duo sharing 48 caps to the 37 of Dan Biggar and Rhys Webb.
The biggest experience gulf is in the centres where Huddersfield-born Luther Burrell – passed fit after coming through the concussion protocols – and Jonathan Joseph are swamped 107-13 by Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies.
Lancaster said: “Across the back line there will be a big disparity in experience. Jamie Roberts, Jonathan Davies, Alex Cuthbert and George North have played a lot of international rugby together.
“Luther’s less than 10, JJ six, Anthony (Watson) four, Jonny (May) 11. So whichever combination we went with we’d be losing out in experience. That’s been the case since I started but that doesn’t always define the result.”
Lancaster also insisted that in selecting Bath’s Joseph at inside centre, they were not sacrificing a playmaker in that key position.
“We are looking for someone else to help out the No 10 as an organiser and a kicker,” he said.
“If you look at Jonathan Joseph’s contribution to Bath, not necessarily his long kicking game which Mike Brown can cater for, it’s more his short kicking game and the information he passes on to George Ford.
“I asked George about that and he said he is critical due to the amount of information he passes on. JJ takes the role of the organiser, while Luther plays a more direct role.”