Cape Town - How things can change in a few games in the world of international rugby. Eddies Jones’ charges were sweeping all before them and were branded as one of the Rugby World Cup favourites in Japan next year.
This was before a disastrous Six Nations campaign where a fifth-place finish, including three consecutive losses to Scotland, France and Ireland, increased the pressure on an England side that were seen as the main challengers to the All Blacks.
The upcoming tour to South Africa against a Springbok side that will be looking to start off on a winning note under new coach Rassie Erasmus looks to be a much bigger test than six months ago.
A larger issue has now raised its head for Eddie Jones and his men.
Who will be captaining the side when they visit the South African shores in June?
Current captain and New Zealand-born Dylan Hartley has been ruled out of the tour due to concussion-related issues and has not played since the loss to Ireland in the Six Nations. The 32-year-old has a history of concussion issues and his withdrawal means Jones will be looking for a new leader in the three-match series against the Springboks.
The former Australian coach indicated earlier in the year that he may rest some of the players who toured New Zealand with the British & Irish Lions in June last year due to fatigue issues.
Owen Farrell is favourite to take over the captaincy if Jones doesn’t rest his Lions players. The Saracens pivot who plays with some familiar South African names in Schalk Burger, Schalk Brits and Vincent Koch at Allianz Park was publicly backed this week by Saracens head coach Mark McCall to be a success if given the England captaincy job.
If the 58-year-old coach does decide to rest his British & Irish Lions players then it would take Farrell and a player like Maro Itoje out of the frame.
This would leave only two obvious names in the hat. Former England captain Chris Robshaw has been playing some fantastic rugby for England and is a good option. The flanker, who was captain in the disappointing Rugby World Cup 2015 campaign at home, could be a stopgap whilst Hartley recovers and Farrell rests.
The other player who could be a surprise choice is Joe Launchbury, the second rower who plies his trade at Wasps was unlucky not to tour with the British & Irish Lions. At 1.99m and 122kg, the physical lock is captaining his club side Wasps with a reasonable amount of success is well respected among his peers.
A captaincy headache is the last thing Jones needs in what is the most challenging time of his coaching period at Twickenham.