Who will be the Lions' Captain fantastic?
Warren Gatland has finally being named as the head coach of the British & Irish Lions, and all the debate until next May will centre on who makes the travelling party and who will captain the side in Australia.
By Declan Whooley
Gatty will have the season to assess the candidates for captaincy, but he did drop hints at the press conference yesterday about who he has in mind already.
“You’re talking about people like Chris Robshaw, Paul O’Connell, Brian O’Driscoll and Sam Warburton. Over the next six months I’m sure there will be a number of others putting their hands up,” he told reporters.
The bookies have four front runners to take over from Paul O’Connell, and despite Gatland’s comments yesterday, the 2009 captain is as far out as 25/1 to retain the position. That is primarily based on the fact that Martin Johnson is the only man to captain the Lions on two occasions.
The Munster man is hugely respected by his peers but his place in the side is under more threat than it was in South Africa and he's no longer the captain of his province either. We took a look at Paddy Power's top four contenders for the role.
The clear favourite, it would be a major surprise if the Cardiff Blues man was over-looked for the role. The openside flanker may only be 22 years old but has already captained Wales to a Grand Slam and to within a whisker of a World Cup final.
Even allowing for his straight red-card in the semi-final, Warburton showcased his talents to the world and it is easy to forget he has just 30 international caps. Highly regarded by his performances on the pitch and professionalism off it (his stance on banning alcohol during the World Cup ruffled some older feathers), he looks like ending Wales’ 36-year wait for a Lions captain.
The England captain has had a meteoric rise in international rugby. After missing out on World Cup selection, the Harlequins player was installed as England captain for the Six Nations with only a single cap to his name.
An all-action flanker with a huge work-rate, he was one of England’s shining lights last season. For my money, 5/1 does not represent good value considering Sam Warburton will be ahead of him for the openside position, and possibly Sean O’Brien and Ross Rennie too. Even if he is used at six he faces competition from Stephen Ferris and Dan Lydiate. A long-shot, but England's best hope.
Paddy Power deem BOD to be the most likely Irish candidate and who are we to argue with the bookies. The Leinster centre will look to sign off his Lions career in the same country he began it in, which is a remarkable feat in itself in the professional era.
Even in the twilight of his career he would still be favoured to take the number 13 jersey, though captaincy may just be beyond him. He has already skippered the Lions in 2005, with Tana Umaga and Keven Mealamu ensuring it was a short affair, and was over-looked in South Africa. No one would begrudge him the honour but it would be a surprise were he to be bestowed with the armband again.
The Scottish captain was the only Scottish representative to see test action against the Springboks in 2009, appearing for 50 minutes in the final game. The Edinburgh hooker has been perhaps his country’s most consistent performer over the past three seasons, culminating in being chosen as the Scotland captain for this year’s Six Nations.
Ford is the only candidate to have captained a side to victory in Australia after Scotland greatly upset the odds to record a 9-6 victory over the Wallabies in June. Tough tackling, abrasive forwards with an ability to lead have traditionally been the main contenders for the Lions captaincy and Ford certainly ticks all those boxes.
Best Outside Bet
It is very hard to see beyond Sam Warburton as captain, and with Gatland in charge it would seem obvious to pick his national captain. However, back row is a physically demanding position and injuries are part and parcel of the Lions tour.
Should Warburton miss out, Matthew Rees is a good outside bet. He has covered this season when the Welsh skipper has been unavailable and has experience from the last tour, forming an all-Welsh front row in the second test. At 80/1 he is the best value of someone outside the main four candidates getting the role. And being Welsh will help.