Speculation about who should skipper the 2021 Lions on their tour to South Africa has stepped up another notch. Paul O’Connell, captain on the last tour to the home of the Springboks in 2009, nominated Owen Farrell some weeks ago ahead of Maro Itoje as his potential candidate.
Martin Johnson has now agreed that Farrell will have a chance, saying: “I’m sure he will be up there in the thick of it.” However, the skipper of the successful 1997 trip to South Africa, believes Alun Wyn Jones can potentially defy his veteran status and challenge to lead the tour under Warren Gatland.
Jones stepped up for the injured Sam Warburton in the 2013 series decider in Australia and although he will only be two months shy of his 36th birthday by the time the South African tour starts in July next year, Johnson reckoned the Welshman could still have what it takes to lead.
Speaking to Sportsmail, the 2003 England World Cup-winning leader said: “You are only looking at playing four or five games on the tour so if he has got the form, no, it [his age] is not an issue. And he has certainly got the experience. Willie John (McBride) was what – 33, 34 – when he did it?
“What you really want is a captain who is going to get in the Test team and command his position, which is tough because there are lots of good second rows around. It’s all to play for.
“There are obviously some guys with credits already. Alun Wyn Jones has a lot as a Lion and as Wales captain. Itoje has got a lot as a player, but they have got to do it all again. They [the coaches] won’t be picking off 2018, 2019 and 2020. These guys will have to be doing it in 2021.”
Second row has traditionally been the position of choice for the Lions captain when touring South Africa. Aside from McBride, Johnson and O’Connell, there has also been Bill Beaumont, another lock, who skippered the 1980 tour.
“I get all that. Fran (Cotton, tour manager in 1997) said that,” agreed Johnson about the thinking of having an enforcer lead the team. “It’s probably easier to captain from the middle of it all when you can show that you’re right into it from the first minute and you’re in it for the full 80, which you might not be on the wing. But Ieuan (Evans) would have been a brilliant captain in 1997 and I don’t think anything would have been different.”
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now