Owen Farrell will captain England one day, according to Sir Clive Woodward
England are currently on a 16-match unbeaten run and will face Italy at Twickenham on February 26 in their third game of the Six Nations.
And Woodward, who coached England to Rugby World Cup glory in 2003, expects coach Eddie Jones to opt for in-form hooker Jamie George ahead of captain Dylan Hartley for the game and give Farrell the responsibility of leading the team on a one-off basis.
However, the coach also says that Jones has told him there is a plan in place to replace Hartley with Farrell in the long term.
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“Absolutely, it will happen in due course,” Woodward told the Daily Mail.
“I wrote a while back that he is the natural successor to Dylan Hartley and he will be a great England captain, but I expect Eddie to stick to the original two-year plan he outlined when we spoke back in January.
“Eddie sees Dylan as the captain up to the end of this season and possibly longer, and let's be honest, it's been a quite exceptional period of success for England.
“Leave alone for a little while longer, that phase hasn't quite run its course.”
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“Next season, probably after the autumn internationals when Eddie plans to rest his Lions, that's when England embark on the second phase of the two-year plan.
“That's when Eddie will be in the position to make the changes, both in captaincy and in certain personnel, as the World Cup shake-down begins in earnest.
Owen Farrell is already taking on leadership roles under the captaincy of Dylan Hartley
“That's when Farrell could be appointed England captain — he is the heir apparent.”
Woodward is a huge admirer of Farrell, who plays fly-half for Saracens but has been deployed at inside centre for England by Jones.
He has also been handed the goal-kicking responsibilities, and England’s former coach is starting to see similarities with the legendary kicker in his own side – Jonny Wilkinson.
Owen Farrell has become a world-class kicker in his role with England at inside centre
“Owen is as tough mentally as he is physically,” Woodward added.
“He is one of those place-kickers who will instantly banish thoughts of a rare mis-hit from his mind and absolutely nail the next shot at goal.
“England really needed him to land that difficult late touchline conversion in Cardiff on Saturday, and, as ever, he didn't let them down.
“His goal-kicking is beginning to become Jonny Wilkinson-esque.”