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Warburton names his Lions captain and identifies the six players he feels are bankers to start first Test versus the Springboks

By Liam Heagney

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Two-tour Lions skipper Sam Warburton has given his backing for England’s Maro Itoje to skipper the 2021 tour to South Africa rather than his fellow Welshman Alun Wyn Jones, who recently led Wales to Guinness Six Nations title glory.

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The 26-year-old Itoje, who was part of the Eddie Jones England squad that finished fifth in the Six Nations, is currently playing tier-two rugby for Saracens in the Championship and has not previously skippered at Test level.  

However, despite this inexperience and a difficult 2021 so far, Warburton believes that Itoje will be named as Lions skipper when Warren Gatland names his 36-strong tour on May 6 rather than Jones, the 35-year-old veteran who skippered Wales under the New Zealander.

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“I have gone back and forth but I’m going to go with who I thought back at the very beginning and that is Maro Itoje,” said Warburton, who unveiled on Wednesday the jersey the Lions will be wearing on tour. “Everybody looked at the first (Six Nations) game he played where he gave away about four or penalties and you can’t do that. 

“But that was just a little bit of rustiness. Warren will want him to be primed and ready to go because he will be one of the players who will be a guaranteed Test starter and I was extremely, extremely impressed with him in 2017 as well when Warren would have seen all.

“The other captaincy candidates are a bit older and there are questions whether it would be a little too much pressure for them to go through a tour like this at the end of the season… I have gone back and forth with Maro and Alun Wyn Jones. Alun Wyn will be up there. I’m sure Alun Wyn will captain games on tour but I would probably go Maro Itoje.

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“The reason I say Maro as captain is because he is a dead cert and it’s between Alun Wyn and James Ryan to battle it out for that No5 shirt. Warren knows the pressure on the captain if they are not a guaranteed starter and there are six bankers to start a Test – Tadhg Furlong, Maro Itoje, Taulupe Faletau, Tom Curry, Anthony Watson and Stuart Hogg.

“I don’t think he will pick a back as captain, so the other player who has the leadership experience he will want is Maro. If Alun Wyn is captain, though, you know you will be in safe hands.”

 

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Warburton names his Lions captain and identifies the six players he feels are bankers to start first Test versus the Springboks

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