Paul O’Connell has suggested that Owen Farrell’s abrasive attitude could see him lead the Lions on their 2021 tour to South Africa. The now-retired Ireland second row was chosen by Ian McGeechan to lead the tourists when they last played in that part of the world in 2009, an epic series that went the way of the Springboks on a 2-1 score. Having since won the 2013 series in Australia and drawn in 2017 versus New Zealand with Warren Gatland as coach of squads skippered by Sam Warburton, the Lions now head to South Africa looking to build on that successful run against the reigning World Cup holders.
South Africa were ruthless in their destruction of England in last November’s final in Yokohama but O’Connell believes Eddie Jones’ side contains two prime candidates when it comes to the captaincy discussion for next year’s three-Test, eight-match trip to the home of the Springboks.
Asked on the latest episode of the Will Greenwood podcast if Maro Itoje had the credentials to lead the tour squad in South Africa, O’Connell initially outlined his admiration for his fellow second row before moving on to give more of a ringing endorsement for what Farrell – England’s current skipper – has to offer. “Certainly he [Itoje] is the kind of player you want playing against South Africa,” said O’Connell during an interview with Greenwood, a colleague from the ill-fated 2005 Lions tour to New Zealand.
“He is obviously a world-class athlete, he is a phenomenal second row forward. I like watching him play. I’m surprised he doesn’t give away more penalties than he does but he is always pushing the limits around the ruck, around the offside line. Brilliant at collapsing mauls, brilliant at stopping teams mauling.
“He is a real pleasure to watch from that regard, but I don’t know what he is like in terms of leadership, in terms of leading a group. I know that a lot of players feel you need a second row forward or a front row forward captaining the side when you take on South Africa, but Owen Farrell has that kind of abrasive attitude as well and is very experienced as well in terms of taking on southern hemisphere teams, beating southern hemisphere teams. He obviously had that tough experience as well with South Africa in the World Cup so, as we are talking here, he springs to mind.
“To be a good Lions captain you can’t do anything different to what you have been doing. You have been picked to be captain based on something the coach has seen already in you and it’s very hard to try and be something you’re not, especially in front of people that you don’t know.
“You have to be as genuine and authentic as you can. When I was captain I was probably quite an emotional, quite a passionate guy. I was a hard worker, hard trainer. I enjoyed having fun, I enjoyed building connections within the team and you just have to be who you are.
“You go to South Africa you probably need someone confrontational certainly because that is their DNA. Every country has a rugby DNA. You hear people talking about that a lot now and you have to have a tactic to beat South Africa, to get around them, to trick them and all that, but you certainly have to take them on confrontationally as well.
“Scrum, maul, if they begin to get on top of you in the confrontations, in the collisions, their belief begins to grow as we saw in the World Cup final so you need to be able to take them on and you need to have a captain that will drive that philosophy as well.”
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