Maro Itoje has planted his flag as one of the great England rugby players of his generation, so it was a surprise to many that head coach Eddie Jones didn't envision a future for him as captain of the team.
Writing in his recently released book, 'Leadership: Lessons from My Life in Rugby', Jones believed Warren Gatland made the right call in appointing Alun Wyn Jones as British and Irish Lions captain ahead of Itoje.
The Saracens lock had his share of supporters to get the nod for the tour of South Africa, but Jones wrote: "I might be wrong, but I am not sure Maro is a future England captain. He is going to be one of the great players, but Maro is very inward looking."
True to form, the Red Rose chief has been the man to prove himself wrong after changing his mind on the matter, having witnessed a rapid period of growth in Itoje over a short period of time.
Jones appeared on Brian Moore 's 'Full Contact' Telegraph podcast and admitted he was hasty in his previous assessment, though he suggested the promotion may not come during his tenure.
"I've never seen a guy mature as much as he has in the last six months so it's been a really good period for him," he told Moore.
"I'm going to contradict myself – and contradiction's a big part of life – but I've got no doubt in the future he will captain England. Whether that's in my time or someone else's time."
Itoje, 27, would need to make some big strides in a relatively short space of time to captain England under Jones, who has said he plans to step down as head coach following the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
Saracens team-mate Owen Farrell remained the team's skipper this autumn prior to suffering an ankle injury, after which Courtney Lawes was promoted to the senior captaincy.
Northampton Saints stalwart Lawes was one of three England vice-captains during the November series, accompanied by Leicester Tigers leaders Ellis Genge and Sale Sharks talisman Tom Curry.
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It's enough to suggest there are others more likely to get the captaincy ahead of Itoje should Farrell be unavailable, though that's not to say the former is incapable of convincing his boss.
"He [Itoje] is really moving in the right direction and it was interesting the role that he played in the team during the autumn," Jones continued. "He took on the role responsible for team communication.
"It is when the team get together to talk about things they need to talk to. And no one's done a better job than he has done so I'm really pleased with the way he is moving."
In questioning Itoje's captaincy credentials, Jones also revealed in 'Leadership' that his star talent had benefited from being sent to acting classes, which he hoped would "develop more communication and leadership skills.”
There can be no questioning Itoje's contributions as a player, and he's seamlessly picked up his stellar Premiership form where he left it this season after returning to the first tier of English rugby.
The Camden native earned a nomination for World Rugby Player of the Year before being named as part of the men's Team of the Year, the only English players included in either ballot.
Itoje has earned 51 England caps and featured on two Lions tours already, featuring in all six of a possible six Tests from trips to New Zealand and South Africa in 2017 and 2021, respectively.
There's added pressure to raise standards as the multifaceted forward enters the prime of his career, and the next challenge will be an improved Six Nations after finishing a dismal fifth in this year's tournament.
The current World Cup cycle may not produce the right opportunity for Itoje to take over leadership of his country, but Jones is no longer under any illusions that it's only a matter of time.
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