Power Ranking the Six Nations Captains
The lines have been drawn, and there's now little more than a week until the 2014 Six Nations Championship gets underway.
This year promises to be one of the closest tournaments in recent memory, with each team's captain undoubtedly feeling the strain more than any others in their respective squads.
Heading into the action, we've ranked the six leading figures on an individual scale.
Here, team pedigree counts for nought. The leading figures of each side have been inspected in terms of their own pedigree, ability and the influence they have on their respective squads.
Time spent in the role of captain and experience in the responsibility also account for some of the logic, where even a giant amongst minnows can come out on top of the pile.
6. Pascal Pape
With Thierry Dusautoir cruelly ruled out of the competition with a torn bicep this weekend, Pascal Pape will be the man who once again assumes the captain's role in his stead.
The towering French lock is no newcomer to the responsibility, considering he led Les Bleus in last year's tournament, despite the fact that it was far from the team's most successful venture at the Six Nations.
It was all the way back in 2004 that the 33-year-old made his Test debut against Ireland, and the replacement leader comes into the fray this year with a wealth of experience under his belt.
That being said, it's taken Philippe Saint-Andre's assumption, as head coach, for Pape to be handed a new lease on life in the national team, given that Marc Lievremont, for better or worse, dropped him out of the running for a time between 2007 and 2010.
The Stade Francais veteran brings a burly presence to the pack and his seasoned mind is of undoubted worth to France. But one could argue that there are superior options at lock, and the fact that Pape wasn't first choice for the "armband" sees him drop in the stakes.
5. Chris Robshaw
Stuart Lancaster continues to see Chris Robshaw as his optimal choice in the captaincy, and it's a decision that's gone in England's favour thus far.
This Six Nations tournament will mark two years since the Harlequins utility was first given the reins as England captain, but there is argument to believe that alternatives should be considered.
Robshaw, while reliable, isn't quite as dazzling as one might expect to see from their leader, the man whom one can look toward in times of dire need or frustration.
The flanker has been nothing if not secure in his 24 months as national team leader, but there might be room to debate that something is missing.
The English squad is lucky enough to house some of the biggest personalities and talents from the Aviva Premiership, but it would be just to say that the side have certainly gained ground with Robshaw as their captain.
That being said, crunch encounters, such as last year's Six Nations decider against Wales and the loss to New Zealand several months ago, have shown that Robshaw may yet be off the pace when it comes to the biggest of stages.
4. Kelly Brown
In Kelly Brown, Scott Johnson has a figure whom he knows will give every ounce of his being for the Scottish national team.
At the end of the day, isn't that the basic need that any coach has of the man leading their side into battle?
The 31-year-old is one of just nine players in the Scotland squad plying his trade outside of the Pro12, with Ross Ford, Chris Cusiter and Sean Lamont the only figures boasting a higher tally than the back-rower's 60 caps.
Since joining Saracens in 2010, Brown has outlasted any obstacles that have come his way, maintaining his place in not just one of England's, but one of Europe's strongest club line-ups.
With Johnson at their helm, Scotland have come on leaps and bounds as a more rounded, offensively capable unit. Brown has embraced any change within the squad, providing a leader's beacon that those around him can rely upon.
As of this moment, there aren't many players in the squad one could look at and honestly deem a better man for the honour than Brown.
3. Sam Warburton
At just 25 years of age, Sam Warburton is the baby of this year's Six Nations captain crop, but don't let the deficit in experience fool you.
Despite spending a relatively short time of just four years in the international setup, the Cardiff Blues star has wasted no time in establishing himself as an international powerhouse.
In the midst of winning 41 caps for Wales, Warburton has become the youngest player ever to captain his side at a Rugby World Cup—in 2011—and led the British and Irish Lions on their tour of Australia last summer.
Many would have found it difficult to argue with Warren Gatland's decision, and the New Zealander continues to enjoy an extremely productive relationship with a player he sees as one of the best open side flankers in the world.
By now, Warburton is no stranger to being captain and is only becoming more familiar with the duty, his combination of on-pitch impact and maturity beyond his years paying dividends.
2. Sergio Parisse
There's perhaps no bigger misfit than Sergio Parisse when it comes to a Six Nations captain not quite fitting in with the overall standard of the rest of their squad.
On his day, the Italian leader is among the best No. 8s in the world, and despite a lack of international success, he consistently bears the blue of the Azzurri with extreme pride.
Parisse, the first Italian player ever to be nominated for IRB Player of the Year, has led the Italian side since 2008. Despite numerous other senior figures being in the squad during that time, none can argue that he's been a bad choice.
Twelve years after making his international debut, the 30-year-old has only excelled further and further on the international stage. Even when his side haven't produced the goods, Parisse can always be relied upon to produce a spark.
With over 100 Italian caps to his name, only the likes of Martin Castrogiovanni and Mauro Bergamasco could challenge the back-rower in terms of pedigree.
1. Paul O'Connell
As the player states in the video above, this year will mark a decade since Paul O'Connell was first given experience as Ireland captain. What a 10 years it's been.
Having just put pen to paper over a two-year contract extension with Munster, the veteran isn't showing any signs of slowing down at the ripe old age of 34 years old, and it's something the neutral should be pleased about.
O'Connell has devoted a great deal of his life not just to his club, but representing his national team is an honour that clearly sits high on the lock's priorities.
As one of the most aggressive figures in the Northern Hemisphere, O'Connell has built a reputation around intimidation. After three tours with the British and Irish Lions, not to mention 88 caps for the Irish national team, there's few more experienced players who are learned in the art.
Despite his years, it would be difficult to argue that the Limerick native doesn't deserve a starting spot in Joe Schmidt's starting line-up, although there are promising options coming through.
That combination of physical worth, combined with O'Connell's near indomitable mental fortitude, makes for quite possibly one of the greatest players ever to have led Ireland.
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