British and Irish Lions guru Sir Ian McGeechan has picked the man he believes should lead the tour of South Africa next year, snubbing Welsh favourite Alun Wyn Jones and England’s Owen Farrell. The Scot was the British and Irish Lions Head Coach in 1989, 1993, 1997 and 2009. In 2005, he coached the midweek side on the tour to New Zealand.
Although there is uncertainty around the tour, ‘Geech’ believes picking the captain is a simpler task.
“Predicting who Gatland might select as captain, however, requires less guesswork,” writes McGeechan in his Telegraph column. “To be honest I think there are probably only three genuine contenders as it stands: Owen Farrell, Alun Wyn Jones and Maro Itoje.”
Crucially he doesn’t believe Alun Wyn Jones is a certainty to start, effectively ruling the Welshman out of the role. “Jones is not certain of his starting spot. He will be 35 by next summer and the competition at lock is ferocious.
“James Ryan has really pushed on and I would start with him and Itoje together at lock if the first test was tomorrow.”
“Itoje, at least, is a certain starter. One of very few in the team. And I think that’s important. You can make an argument for having a ‘tour captain’ and a ‘Test captain’ but I think the key moments on a tour arrive in the crucible of Test match arenas so that is where you want your tour captain; your on-field emissary.”
“Itoje is a player I admire hugely,” said McGeechan, who has studied the England lock’s game. “What you see is an intelligent player who reads the game well, getting himself into key positions at key moments in the game, to slow down or accelerate depending on the need.
McGeechan believes the Saracens’ lock’s loss in the Rugby World Cup final will have taught him much ahead of a tour in which the Springboks will look to bully the tourists physically.
“He is certainly a player I would love to have coached. Technically and physically Itoje is designed for the modern game; he hits rucks accurately and creates turnovers – if you are loose, he will punish you – and he has good hands. But above all it is his uncompromising attitude which stands out. Itoje is incredibly competitive.”
The Lions guru believes Itoje would command the respect of his teammates on tour. “They’ve all been up against him for club and country and they know what he is all about. Itoje is the sort of player you want to play with rather than against. Martin Johnson was the same – a nightmare to play against.”
McGeechan admits Owen Farrell, many people’s favourite to captain, is doing “doing a good job with England” but should be let to play without the pressure of captaincy.
Last month McGeechan picked a British and Irish Lions XV for next year’s tour of South Africa which rugby fans will find damn difficult to argue with it.
Ian McGeechan Lions XV
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