Having a “leadership group” may be lingua franca among elite sports teams these days, but much like “Highlander”, there can be only one captain. They are the one who leads the team out. They’re the one who sits beside the coach at press conferences, they do the introduction of any visiting dignitaries, and they’re more likely to draw flak when things go awry.
They’re also usually someone whose name may as well be penned into the team sheet, a vital cog in a well-oiled machine. Unless, of course, you’re Scotland. There were three leading candidates going into the World Cup – Greig Laidlaw, John Barclay, and Stuart McInally.
As we know, it was McInally who was given the nod, possibly due to the fact he was the most likely to be in the starting XV, even allowing for the “Toony’s Tombola”-effect.
But he too eventually lost his place for the deciding match against Japan (to Fraser Brown), and there have been misgivings in some quarters about his suitability as a captain. Particularly, his “referee management” has been called into question, whereas Laidlaw was constantly in the ref’s ear at every breakdown, and Barclay was never afraid to let the referee know what he thinks when it’s captain consultation time.
With Laidlaw and Barcs now having called time on their international careers, it leaves McInally as the top contender to continue in the role, but what makes a good captain?
I’ve drawn up a list of 4 archetypes, it’s by no means definitive, but it might help us look at the traits a coach is looking for when choosing their on-field leader.
Type A – the on-field coach
A tactical thinker who has the ear of the coach, they’re the voice on it. Due to their needs to impose the coach’s will, they will be paramount to directing play, so most likely a half-back. Will nit-pick at the ref over elements of the opposition play they’ve highlighted in pre-game analysis.
Can often be heard using the terms “go through our processes” and “stick to the gameplan”, both pre and post-match.
Previous example: Greig Laidlaw
Potential incumbent: Finn Russell (yes, I know it seems mad, but he is Toony-incarnate. We could start calling him “Top Cat of the Rave” if it happens.)
Type B – the battleground general
An unerringly hard, big bastard, who the troops will gladly follow into battle. Is able to motivate those around him through a mix of fear and respect. Gives good speeches.
When the chips are down, they’ll do the grunt work to show that the opposition line can be broken. If a skirmish breaks out, they’ll be first in to offer “handers”, and will grab the biggest bastard in the opposition by the scruff of the neck, just to prove he’s not scared.
Referees will listen to them, because they’re scared of them too.
Previous example: Al Kellock
Potential incumbent: Angry Jonny Gray – but only when he’s angry
Type C – the Starman
The team icon, the one who has their face on billboards and makes the flashy stuff look ordinary.
Looks to motivate the team through just being so bloody brilliant that the rest of his teammates think: “Well if he can off-load like that, I’m going full Nakarawa too!”
Can encourage hubris, such as mentioned above, though, and may get petulant upon realising that the rest of team aren’t up to his level. (*cough* Sergio Parisse)
Previous example: Chris Paterson
Potential incumbent: Stuart Hogg
Type D – the crafty veteran
Been around so long, you half expect them to walk onto the pitch wearing an eye-patch and smoking a cigar personally gifted from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s humidor. May even insist on being called “Snake”.
Uncompromising in attitude, they’ve bided their time until earning the goddam right to lead the country out.
Tactically astute because they’ve been playing Test-rugby since some of their own teammates were sticking Duplo bricks together and licking snot from their top-lip, they know how to get away with murder.
May inadvertently call a fresh-faced referee “Son”, rather than “Sir”, when pulled up on their infractions.
Previous example: John Barclay
Potential incumbent: Hamish Watson
We’ve still got quite a way to go until the next international window, but who do you think is the right man to lead Scotland onto the pitch in Dublin when the 6N comes calling?