The curious case of Sam Warburton has its latest installment this weekend as he is reinstated to the starting seven shirt, but not to the captaincy. This denial of the armband is what is most intriguing.
Sam has been poor lately by his standards, and Justin Tupuric is the seven with the form in Wales at the moment. But, there is something to be said for sticking with players of genuine class for the long haul.
Anyone who watched England play cricket in the 1990s knows the misery of selectors going for form over players who have the right attributes to play at the highest level and it took Duncan Fletcher, a man who built his coaching reputation in Wales, to put a stop to that and the benefits have been reaped since for cricket fans. Likewise those heading to the Festival to do some Cheltenham betting next week will not be punting on any old nag, but on quality.
However, by not giving him the captaincy as well as the starting berth Howley is muddling his thinking as well as the message he is sending out to the player, the squad and the nation. On the one hand, he is saying that when fit Sam is the first-choice seven; but at the same time he is intimating that he no longer trusts him to lead the the team, despite this being perfectly acceptable on twenty other occasions. At a time when he needs the full confidence of his coach, the player is being given half a pat on the back; and what must such a feeble show of support say to Ryan Jones? He will surely now know that the captaincy can be whipped from him at any time as well.
Sticking with Sam is the right thing to do as he is a player of rare class, but Howley has made a mistake in not backing him completely. A mistake which may have wider repurcussions in the squad.