Eddie Jones has criticised England for their lack of leadership ahead of the Six Nations
The England coach, wearing a beaded Japanese bracelet depicting fighting spirit, was at his combative best yesterday at Twickenham as he unveiled his squad for the defence of their Six Nations title.
In singling out Dylan Hartley as an exception to a modern generation of spoon-fed automatons, Jones directed particularly uncomfortable scrutiny on the man tagged as England's captain in waiting, Maro Itoje.
He may have led England to a Junior World Cup and captained Saracens as a teenager, but that is cutting little ice with Jones.
"I see him as an important player in the team, I'll leave it at that," said Jones. "I know everyone loves Itoje and if he comes through and develops he could be a candidate, but he's certainly not at the moment.
"There's not many potential captains in the squad. Young people don't like calling other people out. It's not how people are educated now.
"Dylan is very unusual in that respect. He's a very unusual boy. George Ford and Owen Farrell are a couple but those are skills we have got to teach the players.
Maro Itoje has come under scrutiny by Jones ahead of their Six Nations defence
"It's a reality of elite sport now and it's in every sport. A guy was telling me the other day that his son is 13 and in a football academy.
"Every day he is told what to do, what to wear, when to brush his teeth, when to comb his hair – he's told everything.
"The father wants the son to buck the system but he can't because that's the way people are educated to play elite sport now.
"It happens in rugby to a lesser extent. You have to find ways of overcoming it otherwise you end up with teams that can't make decisions.
"And we want to be a team – as we showed against Argentina – that can fix a problem on the field and not look to the grandstand.
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"Look back to the 2003 team. How many of those blokes had to be told what to do?
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"Richard Hill, Dallaglio, Back, Johnson, Thompson, Dawson, Wilkinson, Greenwood.
"Maybe Ben Cohen needed to but you had these players who could just get on with the job."
Jones's professed aim is to make himself redundant as a mouthpiece and organiser, but it is an ambition which sounds a long way off.
The leadership deficit explains his desire to stick by Hartley for the Six Nations despite his latest disciplinary run-in.
Hartley will be confirmed as captain at next Wednesday's tournament launch in London after two days of training with the squad in Portugal. Farrell and Mike Brown will continue as vice-captains, but Jones needs to find another forward to take on that back-up role in the absence of the injured Billy Vunipola for England's opening game against France on February 4.
Tom Wood, the Northampton captain, is one obvious candidate – assuming he holds off the challenge of James Haskell, who will attempt to top 35 seconds on the field in his latest Wasps comeback tomorrow at Zebre.
Jones's more pressing selection issues ahead of the championship surround wing and loose-head prop.
The return of Jack Nowell and Anthony Watson after they missed the autumn Tests broadens his choice out wide.
"We've got two really quick guys in Watson and Jonny May and two real workrate players in Marland Yarde and Nowell.
"Essentially May and Watson are competing for one spot, Nowell and Yarde are competing for the other," said Jones.
The No1 shirt will go to Joe Marler if he can overcome a leg injury in time – "his chances are probably 51/49 at the moment" – with the back-up options expanded by Ellis Genge's return to the squad.
Genge, Jack Clifford and Henry Slade are all recalled after missing this month's Brighton training camp while uncapped Leicester back row Mike Williams is retained with Chris Robshaw out for the tournament injured.
"He hasn't played very well of late, so we're taking a bit of a punt on him," said Jones of Williams. "But we feel he's got the physique and the attitude to make it at Test rugby."
Meanwhile, Scotland prop WP Nel has been ruled out of the Six Nations with a neck injury.