The Rugby Pod believes that Maro Itoje is well-positioned to become captain of the Lions in 2021, continuing the tradition of the tourists appointing teak-tough second rows as their skippers whenever they tour South Africa.
Paul O’Connell, Martin Johnson, Bill Beaumont and Willie John McBride were all locks who respectively skippered the Lions on their 2009, 1997, 1980 and 1974 tours to the home of the Springboks – their last four visits there.
Now Jim Hamilton, a former colleague of Itoje at Saracens, believes the England engine room player is the perfect candidate to lead Warren Gatland’s squad next year even though there has been support elsewhere for rival Wales second row Alun Wyn Jones and current England skipper Owen Farrell.
On the latest edition of the chart-topping podcast, the identity of the next Lions skipper was raised by Hamilton’s co-presenter Andy Goode, the ex-English international, and it took a strong presentation by Hamilton to convince Goode that Itoje would be the best man to have in charge of the Lions.
“People are looking for things to talk about,” said Goode, broaching a topic that always get tongues wagging. “I know Martin Johnson mentioned it last week, they were talking about Lions captain and people have said Alun Wyn Jones, people have said Owen Farrell, people have said Maro Itoje all for various different reasons.
“My thing is, Maro Itoje has never captained a team to my knowledge at the top level. Jim, you have played with him, you know him particularly well, would he be suited to be a Lions captain?
“It’s easy to say that guy will be the most physical guy on the field because he will and that is a given, and he is a quality player. But captaincy is very different from being the guy that just goes around smashing people and being as effective as he is for Saracens and for England.”
Hamilton quickly responded, outlined numerous reasons why he feels the 25-year-old is ripe for the captaincy after 38 England caps and three for the Lions on their previous tour, the drawn 2017 Test series with New Zealand.
“You look at leadership and it’s very different now,” said the ex-Scotland international. “Everything is about leadership, right, and it looks different now in terms of professional sport. In our day you were in your prime in your 30s. You’re not now. Your prime as a rugby player is 25, 26.
“There are loads of different things that you look at. I don’t think Owen Farrell will suit as captain from a fly-half position. I’m still a bit old-school. Someone in the forwards should do that because they are closer to all the set-pieces, the breakdowns, the carrying, the tackling… a forward is more suited.
“We saw with Sam Warburton… I don’t think you need to be the very, very best player, I don’t think you need to be the most vocal player. I was chatting to Lawrence Dallaglio about that and you [Goode] will know more than anyone playing with Martin Johnson, it wasn’t what he said, it was when he spoke that really mattered. He wasn’t speaking the whole time.
“Someone like Maro leads by example but there is also a profile thing there, he is one of the most famous rugby players in the world but he also conducts himself in a really good manner, in a really positive way, the way that he trains, the way that he handles himself, the way that he speaks in the media.
“These are all plus things on top of the fact that he is a world-class player as well that would contribute to being a captain – and being a captain not for a season but for a Lions tour. I just think it would be quite a smart move. I’m not saying that because Maro is easy to market. He is one of the best players in the world, he leads by example, he knows he has got an opportunity. He captained the England U20s to a World Cup.
Geordan Murphy gives Maro Itoje a tongue-in-cheek mention in Leicester recruitment update https://t.co/PLa4GIqdO2
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) May 30, 2020
“Saracens, he is in the leadership group there. He captained the A team there, captained the LV= team. He is a leader in that group, he’s respected. He is one of the players now where if he speaks people listen, but he also leads by example. He is one of the fittest, one of the strongest, so I like that idea. He will be captain.”
Hamilton’s opinions swayed the view of the sceptical Goode. “Hearing you speak like that, you give a great case for it. My concern with it is because he is that good of a player you don’t want the captaincy to take away from his ability as a player and how he conducts himself on the field of play – you sometimes start thinking about other things.
“For some people, it works wonderfully well. Dylan Hartley, before he got made England captain, would have been seen in some circles as a liability, the discipline issues and all that stuff. But when he got made England captain that was the making of him as an England player and he improved himself on the field because of that captaincy and hopefully if that (Lions captaincy) does happen to Maro that can be a positive thing.”
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