While he’s a big fan of the player, former Saracens coach Brendan Venter says he doesn’t believe Maro Itoje is ready to skipper the British and Irish Lions in their tour of South Africa next year.

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Itoje is being tipped by many to get the nod from Warren Gatland to lead the touring side, but Venter believes the highly-rated England lock is not ready for the role, despite being a star of the 2017 tour of New Zealand.

In an in-depth interview with Planet Rugby’s David Skipper, the former Springbok touched on the Lions captaincy, saying that while he thinks he has ‘immense potential’, the 2020 Itoje vintage was yet to mature.

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“Personally, I don’t think Maro is ready to be that leader yet.

“I think he has immense potential, he’s a good man.”

Itoje has made 119 club appearances since his debut appearance for Saracens back in 2014 and started in all three Lions Tests against the All Blacks three years ago, but Venter believes the 25-year-old is best suited contributing to the team in other ways.

“He has good values but I think it will be difficult for him, and Maro’s way is contributing to a team in so many other ways. If you take a young man and expect him to be a leader of the British and Irish Lions, I’m not sure if that makes sense.

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“But, you never know. He has another year to develop and you never know what will happen during that period.”

Venter seems to favour England captain Owen Farrell as captain.

“Owen has been so successful – for Saracens and England – and he did well in New Zealand as well with the British and Irish Lions (in 2017). Also, because he is so experienced, I think someone like Owen would be a good choice in the end but, if Warren Gatland decides to go with a majority of players from Wales, it could be someone else as captain.”

Gatland has already hinted that Itoje is leading the race for the coveted role. “Itoje is the name that keeps cropping up,” said in a Rugby World interview in June.

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“He’s an intelligent player and an intelligent man and has been incredibly successful in his career,’ said Gatland. ‘He would definitely be in contention as one of the possibilities as captain.

‘It’s about picking the squad and then saying who do we think will be captain material. Ideally, it’s somebody who has come from a team that’s been pretty successful. The next question is if we were picking the Test team now, is there a good chance this person would make that Test team?’

‘Itoje is the name that keeps cropping up,’ said Gatland. ‘You look at that and go, well, there are some pretty good second rows around and he’s not bad. You have Courtney Lawes and George Kruis.

‘How’s Alun Wyn Jones going at that time? There’s James Ryan. There’s no doubt about Itoje’s quality.’

 

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