Less than a week away from the announcement of the 2017 British and Irish Lions squad and something of a captaincy dilemma has arisen for Lions boss Warren Gatland.
It has long been assumed that Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones or former Wales captain Sam Warburton, would be named by Gatland as the man to lead the Lions on the soil of the double-defending world champions New Zealand.
The problem facing the head coach is that both men are now injured, Jones with a shoulder problem and Warburton with a knee ligament issue. Should they manage to recover in time to make the trip south this summer, they will asked to test their freshly healed wounds against some of the toughest opponents in world rugby.
Best case, all will be fine and the time off will have allowed both men to rest up and be fresh for the tour. Worst case, neither make the plane or suffer a relapse before the first All Blacks test.
What then for Gatland? Who will lead the Lions? While Ireland’s Rory Best appears to be next in line for the role, there has been the ongoing debate over whether England’s Owen Farrell should be given the honour.
As a vice-captain for England during the recently concluded Six Nations, Farrell is not unfamiliar to the role of leadership. However, to date he has primarily led through his actions, carrying ball and kicking points.
Still only 25, he has amassed over 50 caps for England and toured with the Lions four years ago so he is not left wanting on experience. The major issue for Farrell is that he has still yet to demonstrate the temperament for leadership, despite his experience.
Yes, he can win games and is a formidable presence in the back line. Yes, he can inspire through his actions. Despite these admirable qualities however, he can also find himself courting the wrong side of the referee all too frequently.
As recently as two weeks ago, the Saracens star got into a scrap with Glasgow’s Ryan Wilson during their Champions Cup clash.
Prior to this incident, Farrell was seen on more than one occasion getting involved in some unsavoury and, questionably, unsportsmanlike afters with Ireland’s Johnny Sexton during the final game of the Six Nations.
Going back further, there are numerous incidents that involve the Englishman, including ironically, a fight with Schalk Brits back in 2013 when the Lions faced the Barbarians in Hong Kong.
Ultimately, these are not the antics of a leader, especially a leader of the Lions. Looking at the other prospective picks for the role this summer, you simply don’t see Jones, Warburton or Best getting involved in unnecessary moments as frequently as Farrell.
That is not to say they are shrinking violets, far from it. Instead, they appear to grasp the concept that having a positive relationship with the referee can be of benefit to a side.
Fighting and engaging in unnecessary afters, as Farrell has a tendency to do, will carry no favours with the referee.
Against New Zealand, the Lions will need to apply measured aggression and intensity. They were born into a brand of rugby that is more physical and unforgiving than their northern hemisphere counterparts. That is why they are so hard to beat.
Cool heads will be needed more than ever if Warren Gatland wants to repeat the heroics of four years ago and claim a famous test series victory this summer.
Gary Brennan, Pundit Arena