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British and Irish Lions: Alun Wyn Jones and Stuart Hogg in line to lead Warren Gatland’s tourists in South Africa

Will Stuart Hogg or Alun Wyn Jones captain the Lions in South Africa?

Ahead of Warren Gatland’s British and Irish Lions squad announcement on Thursday, we look at some of the players in contention to captain the touring side…

Alun Wyn Jones (Wales)

Alun Wyn Jones and Gatland go far back. Jones was one of the Wales players inherited by Gatland at the end of 2008 when he took over as head coach, and the second rower was still part of the core side that made it to the World Cup semi-final in Japan in 2019.

Jones has captained Wales on a full-time basis since the retirement of Sam Warburton in July 2018, and captained the Lions in the third Test against the Wallabies in 2013 when Warburton was ruled out through injury.

Wales have won two of the three Six Nations since Jones took over the captaincy, and the 35-year-old is regarded as one of the country’s most influential players in history.

Also counting in Jones’ favour is the feeling that playing against the Springboks means a big forward battle, and therefore having a captain up front is seen as essential. Martin Johnson led the Lions to victory in 1997, while in 2009 Paul O’Connell was asked to skipper the side despite Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll also being in the team.

British and Irish Lions: Alun Wyn Jones and Stuart Hogg in line to lead Warren Gatland's tourists in South Africa

British and Irish Lions: Alun Wyn Jones and Stuart Hogg in line to lead Warren Gatland's tourists in South Africa 1:47
Jamie Roberts told Sky Sports last month Alun Wyn Jones should captain the Lions for their tour of South Africa

Jamie Roberts told Sky Sports last month Alun Wyn Jones should captain the Lions for their tour of South Africa

All the logic points to Jones as a solid contender, but does the captain have to be a certain Test starter? And if so, is the Welshman guaranteed to start when fighting for places against the likes of Maro Itoje, James Ryan and potentially someone like Tadhg Beirne?

Stuart Hogg (Scotland)

One person who disagrees with the mantra that a forward has to captain the Lions in South Africa is Gareth Thomas. The former Wales skipper was given the Lions job in New Zealand in 2005 after O’Driscoll’s tour had been ended through injury in the first Test.

“I’d probably go for someone like Stuart Hogg,” Thomas told Sky Sports News last week. “He’s constantly in form – even when he goes back and plays for Exeter he doesn’t drop his standards.

“As a full-back, people assume that you’re out of the game a lot but the reality is that you’re in the game all the time because you’re watching what happens in front of you and you have this decision-making process that’s not heated.

“Stuart Hogg is one of very few people who are a probability to be on the team sheet, and has captained Scotland well – a resurgent Scotland.”

British and Irish Lions: Alun Wyn Jones and Stuart Hogg in line to lead Warren Gatland's tourists in South Africa

British and Irish Lions: Alun Wyn Jones and Stuart Hogg in line to lead Warren Gatland's tourists in South Africa 0:57
Former Lions captain Gareth Thomas thinks this year’s team should break tradition and make a full-back captain, suggesting Scotland’s Stuart Hogg as his pick

Former Lions captain Gareth Thomas thinks this year’s team should break tradition and make a full-back captain, suggesting Scotland’s Stuart Hogg as his pick

Hogg is probably closer to being a guaranteed Test starter than anyone else in Britain and Ireland, and as mentioned by Thomas, the full-back led a Scotland side in this year’s Six Nations that beat England at Twickenham for the first time in 38 years, and claimed a first victory over France on French soil since 1999.

There is no doubting his credentials as a player, but will the number on his back count against him when Gatland unveils his skipper?

Owen Farrell (England)

After a brief period of sharing the captaincy with Dylan Hartley, Owen Farrell took charge of the England team that went all the way to the World Cup final in Japan and won the Six Nations the following year.

England’s performances in this year’s tournament were nowhere near the high levels of previous Championships, and as one of the Saracens players who appeared rusty after not regularly playing against Premiership opposition, Farrell has some way to go to get back to his individual best.

However, at the age of 29, he is just three games short of playing 100 Test matches, so he has plenty of international experience, and he is a born leader.

In the changing rooms in the wake of a pre-tour match against the Barbarians in 2013, Farrell – then just 21 – was singled out by Paul O’Connell as one of the leaders in the team already, and O’Connell still has the same opinion of his former Lions team-mate eight years later.

“I like Owen Farrell, he’s a real standout leader for me,” the former Lions captain said last month. “With matches being played without crowds, you can hear so much of what the players are saying during games. You can hear Owen barking at his own players and encouraging them.

British and Irish Lions: Alun Wyn Jones and Stuart Hogg in line to lead Warren Gatland's tourists in South Africa

British and Irish Lions: Alun Wyn Jones and Stuart Hogg in line to lead Warren Gatland's tourists in South Africa 0:46
Former Wales and Lions prop Adam Jones says Warren Gatland is not afraid about making big selection calls with competition for places heating up

Former Wales and Lions prop Adam Jones says Warren Gatland is not afraid about making big selection calls with competition for places heating up

“When you pick a captain or leaders for the Lions tour, it’s about picking guys who are willing to take ownership of what the plan is. Owen is a guy who enjoys leading and enjoys taking ownership. He’s almost coaching.”

The big question, as is the case with all the contenders, has to be whether he is guaranteed to start, and based on this year’s performances that isn’t the case with Farrell – whether or not Gatland is willing to overlook that remains to be seen.

Maro Itoje (England)

Maro Itoje was earmarked as a future England captain before he even made his debut. Tongue-in-cheek comments from Eddie Jones in 2016 that he wanted to convert the lock forward “from a Vauxhall Viva into a BMW” before unleashing him on the international stage soon made way for regular Test game time, and five years on Itoje is every bit the leader that everyone foresaw.

The 26-year-old now has 51 caps to his name and has won all team silverware on offer to him, with the single notable exception of the World Cup.

Itjoe falls into a similar situation to Hogg in that he is close to being guaranteed to start, and like Jones he operates in the tight five.

The Saracens second row was one of England’s better performers in a poor Six Nations but his high penalty count appeared to dent his chances of being chosen for the role by Gatland.

British and Irish Lions: Alun Wyn Jones and Stuart Hogg in line to lead Warren Gatland's tourists in South Africa

British and Irish Lions: Alun Wyn Jones and Stuart Hogg in line to lead Warren Gatland's tourists in South Africa 0:34
Maro Itoje says he is excited that the British and Irish Lions Tour of South Africa will go ahead as scheduled

Maro Itoje says he is excited that the British and Irish Lions Tour of South Africa will go ahead as scheduled

However, Warburton gave Itoje his endorsement for the role, saying: “Warren will want him primed and ready to go as he’s one of the players who will be a guaranteed Test starter. I was extremely impressed with him in 2017 and Warren would have seen all that as well.

“The other captaincy candidates are a little bit older. You question whether it would be a bit too much pressure for them to go through a tour like this at the end of the season.”

Johnny Sexton (Ireland)

Johnny Sexton’s chances of leading the Lions likely faded in the wake of Ireland’s up-and-down Six Nations campaign earlier this year.

Andy Farrell’s side ended in third place after losses to Wales and France were followed by a win over Scotland and a comfortable victory over England.

While Leinster are still a force, and Sexton is still a vital part of their recent success, he is not the same athlete that was crowned World Rugby men’s player of the year in 2018.

There is no doubt he could do the job for Gatland if called upon, but with Sexton turning 36 a few weeks before the first Test against the Boks, and form number 10s Dan Biggar and Finn Russell jostling for squad places along with Farrell, Sexton still has to convince Gatland he needs to be in the squad before conversations about captaincy could take place.

If Sexton is named in the squad there is no doubting he will be one of the leadership figures within the group, and with the difficulty of touring in a bubble there will be added need for experienced heads to help guide the next generations of Lions, but leading the team out for the Test matches it likely a step too far for the Ireland talisman this year.


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