Although Sam Warburton’s appointment as Lions captain seems to be a foregone conclusion at this stage, that is not to say that everyone agrees it will be the right call.
The Wales flanker is expected to be given the proverbial armband, having led the side in the tour of Australia four years ago, despite his abdication of the responsibility of captaining his country just before the Six Nations at the beginning of the year.
Former All Black Justin Marshall, who made his final international appearance in the Lions’ last tour of New Zealand back in 2005, believes that Warburton would be the wrong choice by Warren Gatland, and has instead given his backing to Ireland’s Rory Best for the role.
Writing in the New Zealand Herald on Monday, the Sky Sports commentator and ex-Ospreys and Saracens scrum-half believes that Gatland’s choice has to be a guaranteed starter – and while Best, he feels, is assured of that, Warburton will to well to make the starting test fifteen. Marshall also believes that Best’s leadership ability puts him above his rivals in contention:
“One of the most important decisions Gatland has before naming his squad on April 19 is his selection of captain; to have a man who sets the culture, brings the team together and is an approachable person who everyone can relate to.
“He also has to be first choice in his position and I can’t think of anyone better than Irish hooker Rory Best. The talk is that Sam Warburton is one of the front runners but he will have enough challenges just making the test team. He has also relinquished the captaincy of Wales and looks better for it. Dylan Hartley is another one but, for me, there’s just too much controversy that comes with him.
“Ireland have had a hell of a season under Best. They beat the All Blacks for the first time ever, stopped England’s winning run and in my mind that points to a good captain the players like and respect.
“He’s a great hooker as well. At the basics of scrums and lineouts, he’s probably the best in the world.”
Best, along with Warburton’s Wales successor Alun Wyn Jones, was seen as one of the early frontunners for the Lions captaincy, but the 34-year-old Ulster hooker has fallen well down, behind even Hartley and Owen Farrell, in the latest bookmakers’ odds.
All will be revealed when Gatland announces the squad later this month, though it would be a major shock at this stage if Warburton is not named as captain.