TWICKENHAM – Eddie Jones hopes Owen Farrell and Dylan Hartley can follow the example of Australia greats George Gregan and John Eales after naming the pair as England's co-captains for the November internationals at Twickenham.
New Zealand-born hooker Hartley has been Jones's first-choice as skipper when available since the experienced Australian coach took charge of England following their embarrassing first-round exit on home soil at the 2015 World Cup.
Now less than a year out from next year's edition in Japan, Jones has taken the unusual step of formally splitting the captaincy between Farrell, already an influential figure at either fly-half or inside centre, and Hartley.
Farrell led England in Hartley's absence with a concussion injury during their 2-1 series loss in South Africa in June.
But rather than creating confusion over who is in charge - only a solitary captain is allowed to question on the field the reason behind a referee's decision in rugby union for example - Jones believe sharing the burden of captaincy will benefit England.
As evidence, he cited the start of his time as Australia coach when outstanding lock John Eales was the captain, with scrum-half George Gregan his deputy.
“It's not a difficult situation, at all,” Jones told reporters at Twickenham after unveiling his 36-man England squad for the November Tests against South Africa, New Zealand, Japan and Australia.
“If I go back to the first Wallaby side I coached, it had John Eales as captain and George Gregan as vice-captain,” added Jones, in charge of his native Australia from 2001-2005.
“Who spoke to the referee more? George Gregan. Who was more influential in the team? George Gregan. Who was one of the greatest captains of all time? John Eales.
“The combination of those two together was enormously powerful and I see Owen and Dylan being able to create that same leadership power - of being able to galvanise the team on and off the field together.
“It's so important for us,” explained Jones, whose Wallaby side lost the 2003 World Cup final in Sydney to an England team coached by Clive Woodward.
Jones said he had decided to share the captaincy after the series loss to the Springboks.
“Basically after the South Africa tour I thought that if Dylan could get back on the field and start playing, that could be a great situation for us - a really positive situation for us.”
England have been beset by injuries, particularly among their forwards, with Jones estimating he would be without some 320 caps worth of experience next month.
But he said that had “nothing to do with” his captaincy decision.
“I think it's the best situation for us. We'll use it in November and if it's the right thing for us - and I think it will be - we'll take it right through to the World Cup.”
England won their first 17 Tests under Jones, sparking a belief they could be world champions' New Zealand's strongest challengers at Japan 2019.
This year, however, saw England lose five internationals in a row, a trio of Six Nations defeats followed by the team going 2-0 down in South Africa before a 25-10 win in Cape Town stopped the rot.
But Jones, also a former coach of Japan, was in typically bullish mood when asked about England's World Cup prospects.
“What I know about the World Cup, and this will be my fourth, the only time you need to be at your best is at the World Cup,” he said.
“All the leading up to is sparring, practice rounds.
“We want our best guys to be fit for the crux game at the World Cup, which is going to be in the later rounds of the pool,” added Jones, with England facing a tough battle to emerge as one of two qualifiers from a group also featuring France and Argentina.
England open next month's Test campaign against the Springboks on November 3 and Jones insisted: “We don't have to win a World Cup (yet).
“We're playing South Africa. Can we beat South Africa? A hundred percent.”
Agence France-Presse (AFP)