Rugby

Question mark over Mortlock

2009-01-06 09:24
My captain, my captain? (Gallo Images)
Canberra - A decision on the Brumbies captaincy will be made before the team's first trial game, but incumbent skipper Stirling Mortlock is no guarantee to be in charge this year.

Coach Andy Friend confirmed on Monday he wanted ''as a matter of priority'' to finalise a captain for this season, hinting he may do so as early as next week.

But whether Mortlock, who assumed the Brumbies' primary leadership role from George Gregan in 2004, retains it this year remains to be seen.

Friend briefly discussed the issue with Mortlock late last year but a decision was not made.

That will change well before the Brumbies' first trial against the Hurricanes at Canberra Stadium on January 30, according to Friend.

''I spoke to Stirling about it before our break but I let him have the Christmas period to think about the situation and we'll talk about it again next week,'' the coach said.

''He didn't then and hasn't since indicated to me that he wants to step down but we didn't lock anything in either.

''Stirling said he'd done nothing but immensely enjoy his time as Brumbies and Wallabies captain but it's a formality you have to sort out at the start of every season.

''It's something I definitely want to sort out early on in the piece so it will take some form of priority next week when Stirling gets back to training.''

The Brumbies returned to pre-season training on Monday and welcomed back Wallabies Ben Alexander, Mark Chisholm and Peter Kimlin to the fray. Fellow incumbent Wallabies Mortlock, Adam Ashley-Cooper and George Smith have one more week off before they begin their Brumbies pre-season.

Mortlock is committed to Australian rugby until 2010 but is still deciding whether to play on until the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

When Mortlock was asked at the end of the Wallabies' European tour in December whether he would lead the Australian team in 2011, he responded, ''I don't think that far ahead, not at all''.

Should the 31-year-old offer up the Brumbies captaincy, Friend would need to find a replacement of the same calibre as Mortlock.

The club has already announced a senior leadership group for this year Mortlock, Smith, Clyde Rathbone, Mark Gerrard, Stephen Hoiles and Nic Henderson.

Smith, who has been the first-choice replacement skipper under Mortlock, would be the obvious pick.

But the champion flank has been tentative in the past to commit to a long-term captaincy role.

Henderson and Hoiles would be strong candidates, even though the former is not guaranteed a spot in the team as he battles with Ben Alexander, Guy Shepherdson and Salesi Ma'afu for the two starting props roles and reserve spot.

Hoiles has long been mooted as a future captain.

Friend commended the members of the leadership group involved in the pre-Christmas training block and was looking forward to having Mortlock and Smith back.

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