The British and Irish Lions will face the All Blacks in their first of three Tests in less than two weeks and the assumption is that head coach Warren Gatland will already have a reasonable idea about who is in the running to line out in red for that first clash in Eden Park.
In the three games played so far this tour, Gatland has continually rotated his squad in order to ensure everyone has gotten a start, that most have gotten to come off the bench and that as many player combinations as possible have been explored.
Injuries thus far have been light, with minor knocks and strains to Sam Warburton and Ross Moriarty and head injuries to Dan Biggar, Jonathan Davies and Stuart Hogg. Add to this a finger dislocation to Conor Murray and it hasn’t been quite as bruising a tour as fans expected.
With Warburton and Biggar back in action and the expectation that Murray and Davies will return in time for the first Test, the only real concern lies with Hogg, who suffered a very nasty face wound when he ran into the elbow of Murray during their clash with the Crusaders on Saturday.
Competition for places remains incredibly high, with almost everyone still in the mix for the place in the match day 23. Ahead of their Highlanders match in Dunedin on Tuesday, tour captain Sam Warburton revealed that he may not be ready for the opening All Blacks Test, meaning the Lions could be without their leader on June 24.
In his absence so far this summer, Gatland has bestowed the captaincy on Alun Wyn Jones for the Provincial Barbarians opener and Ken Owens for the Blues defeat in game two.
If Warburton were to be left out for the first Test, the expectation is Jones or Owens would then be given the nod to carry their mascot BIL onto the field.
What if, however, neither of these two make the cut either? It is certainly plausible given the performances from hookers Rory Best and Jamie George. Both could continue their excellent form and keep Owens out in the cold.
Similarly, for Jones, the second row is stacked with high-performing locks. Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, Iain Henderson and George Kruis are all chomping at the bit for a Test start.
While Jones has been solid, he certainly isn’t standing out among his peers.
So, assuming the scenario that sees all three Welshman warming the bench or a seat in the stands, to whom can Gatland turn to lead the Lions out against the All Blacks?
The Ireland captain is vastly experienced on the international stage, with over 100 caps for Ireland to date. The Ulster man led Joe Schmidt’s side to a history-making first win over the All Blacks last November in Chicago.
As leaders go, you will not find another captain within the Lions squad who has led a side to a five-try victory over the double-defending world champions.
The England out-half and centre has become one of the genuine leaders within the England set-up in recent seasons and that experience is evident this summer in the red of the Lions.
Regarded as a future captain of his national side, Farrell is the only other non-Irish star that has started a game and tasted success against the All Blacks.
As probably the only man who is all but certain of his Test start, perhaps Gatland will look to the 25-year-old to guide the Lions home in Eden Park.
Scotland’s captain joined the squad following the withdrawal of Ben Youngs prior to the tour and lined out for the opening match of the summer tour.
Despite being the only other international captain in the squad, the reality is that he was the presumed third-in-line for the Test scrum-half position before the tour began.
This assumption appears to have been backed up on the field also, as Conor Murray and Rhys Webb have laid down persuasive arguments for the No. 9 jersey.
The Munster captain forces his way into the Lions squad following a emphatic return to action towards the end of the Six Nations.
The back-row forward is the likely successor to Rory Best as Ireland captain and is a strong option for Gatland, should it be needed.
Always ready to fight for every ball and stand by every teammate, O’Mahony is a genuine leader.
Looking through the squad, not many could be regarded with enough certainty of a Test start to rest the captaincy with but names like Murray, Halfpenny and Cole stand out, assuming they start, of course.
Gatland still has two more games before he has to name his Test 23 but with many questions yet to be answered, it is clear that the small matter of naming his captain could still be one of them.
Gary Brennan, Pundit Arena