Nigel Owens believes Alun Wyn Jones is the leading candidate to captain the British and Irish Lions this summer, partly thanks to his relationship with referees.
Jones captained Wales to an unlikely Six Nations title last month, something which has caused many pundits to tip him to lead the Lions against South Africa this summer.
While the Welsh referee believes England’s Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje would be worthy candidates for the role of captain, he argued in his column for Wales Online that Jones is the clear favourite.
“I must emphasise I have enormous regard for Farrell and Itoje, who each possess huge strengths of their own,” Owens explained.
“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?
“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.”
‘He possesses a calm manner that referees like’
England’s ill-discipline was a major issue for them in the Six Nations, as they were constantly penalised for offences that ultimately had game-changing effects.
Wales did very well in terms of their discipline over the duration of their Six Nations campaign (apart from the final 10 minutes against France) partly thanks to their captain who is well-versed in dealing with referees.
“Others look up to [Jones] and follow him, he’s a good leader inside the dressing room and the opposition also respect him,” Owens wrote.
“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.”