Former British and Irish Lions captain Paul O’Connell believes that Owen Farrell is the right man to skipper the team for their 2021 tour to South Africa.
O’Connell, who led the Lions during their last series against the Springboks in 2009, believes that the England captain has the right “abrasive attitude” for the job.
Sam Warburton captained the side during their last two tours of Australia and New Zealand but head coach Warren Gatland will have to choose a new leader for next year’s series due to Warburton’s retirement.
O’Connell appeared as a guest on Will Greenwood’s Rugby Podcast and was asked if 2017 tourist Maro Itoje could be a potential Lions leader. While maintaining that he is certainly a starter against the world champions, he argued against his appointment as captain.
“Certainly he is the kind of player you want playing against South Africa.
“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.”
Instead, the 40-year-old advocated for Gatland to appoint Farrell in the role given his attitude and experience against Southern Hemisphere teams.
“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.”
O’Connell has plenty of experience in a leadership role having captained Munster and Ireland as well as the Lions and he believes that when facing a team of South Africa’s nature, the side must have a confrontational leader.
“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.”