Nigel Owens maintains that Wales legend Alun Wyn Jones and not Maro Itoje should lead the British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa.
What’s more, the Welsh refereeing icon says he would also place Jones ahead of England star Owen Farrell, whose form has dipped in recent months.
It’s widely perceived that the trio are locked in a metaphorical shoot-out for the captaincy, although Wales’ performances during the Guinness Six Nations has put Jones firmly back as favourite to get the nod from Lions head coach Warren Gatland.
Writing in his Wales Online column, Owens said that Itoje’s reputation for giving away penalties is a signficant negative from a refereeing perspective.
“I must emphasise I have enormous regard for Farrell and Itoje, who each possess huge strengths of their own,” wrote Owens. “I’ve refereed Farrell many times for England, always found him to be respectful and a terrific player who leads by example in his own right. I expect him to be one of the favourites to start against South Africa, despite England’s poor form in the Six Nations.
“Perhaps Farrell isn’t guaranteed his place in the way he would have been a year ago, but Gatland knows what he can do. And what’s that saying about form being temporary, class permanent?”
Itoje, who many feel is the best second row in the world, came under heavy criticism during the Six Nations, most notably against Wales, were he gave away four penalties in the first half alone.
“I guess the same applies to Itoje, but one of my concerns with him being Lions captain just yet is the number of penalties he gives away. It’s not a good look when your captain keeps being pinged.”
Although Alun Wyn Jones was a little confrontational with referees in his early days, Owens says that his fellow Welshman’s cool head and demeanor make him ideal as a communicator.
“Others look up to [Jones] and follow him, he’s a good leader inside the dressing room and the opposition also respect him.
“Crucially, so do referees as well. Perhaps Alun Wyn was a little vocal in his early days, but he’s learned a lot with experience and knows exactly when to, and how to, approach referees.
“I’ve spoken to him a few times over the years about this sort of thing, when he should step in, how to say things, but, more importantly, when he should step back and how not to say things to a referee.
“He possesses a stature, calm manner and respectful choice of words that we like.”
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