Director of Rugby Chris Boyd tipped his cap to Courtney Lawes, after the Northampton Saints star captained England for the first time last weekend.
The versatile 32-year-old forward has already enjoyed a storied career in Black, Green and Gold, with a Red Rose on his chest, and while representing the British & Irish Lions.
But Saturday’s Test against Tonga – in which England ran out 69-3 winners – saw Lawes lead out England as skipper for the first time in his career in the absence of Owen Farrell.
And with a remarkable try-saving tackle on Telusa Veainu stealing the headlines and capping off another brilliant all-round display from Lawes, the Northampton stalwart is not showing any sign of slowing down with another Rugby World Cup now firmly on the horizon.
“It’s a great honour for him, obviously,” said Boyd. “Courtney is a Northampton boy and he’s a world-class rugby player in my opinion.
“He’s been thrown into that leadership role and he’s more than capable of doing it in his own way, which is to say ‘follow me’.
“I’d be more than surprised if it's the only time he leads England. He’s determined to get through the next couple of years and he could cement himself as a truly world-class player.
“It’s part of our obligation to grow international rugby players, whether it’s for this country or other countries.
“We have 10 guys selected for international duty this autumn and that can put a bit of a strain on the squad, but we will always support them and celebrate their accomplishments.”
It was not all good news for Saints on Saturday however as the men in Black, Green and Gold were beaten by Sale Sharks in torrid conditions at the AJ Bell Stadium.
James Grayson’s two penalties kept Northampton in touch at half-time, but two tries for the hosts after the interval helped them to a 30-6 win.
Boyd was forced into three late changes ahead of the match as Fraser Dingwall, Teimana Harrison and Juarno Augustus all failed late fitness tests, but the Kiwi coach admitted it was the Sharks’ clinical finishing of their chances that proved the difference.
He said: “It wasn’t a vintage game of football by any means, the wind and the rain certainly dragged it down a bit.
“We chose to play downwind, and were 13-6 down at half-time, so the writing was on the wall then with their ability to control the set piece and the breakdown – although, I thought we played some of our better football in the second half going into the wind.
“There are a lot of ‘ifs’ obviously, but if we’d have converted those three or four drives into some points, we might have been able to get ourselves back into it.”Chris Boyd, Director of Rugby
“The frustrating thing is that with all the late changes late in the week, we had guys in roles that they’re not normally in.
“We got a couple of things wrong inside their 22 that stopped us converting that territory and possession into points, so it was disappointing.
“Sale didn’t have too many more opportunities than us, but certainly converted them better than we did.”
Next up for Northampton is a home clash against London Irish, as the Premiership Rugby Cup gets underway.
Saints beat the Exiles 23-21 back at the start of October when the sides met in the Gallagher Premiership, but as the development competition gets underway, Boyd admits his line-up will have a very different look to it this time around.
“If there’s a positive out [from the Sale match], it was great to see Karl Wilkins start and Brandon Nansen come on to get their first caps for the Club – they will play a bit over the next couple of weeks and we’ll see where we are after that,” Boyd added.
“A few of the youngsters also got some minutes; Josh Gillespie, Connor Tupai and Tom Litchfield. I was pleased the way they all stood up when they came on.
“So, we have to look forward now to a Premiership Rugby Cup block where a lot of our youngsters, Academy players, and guys at the back end of our roster will get an opportunity.
“I’m looking forward to seeing some of the youngsters play, especially some of the first-year guys get a run out for Saints for the first time.”