Wales lock Alun-Wyn Jones’ hopes of captaining the Lions this summer have been given a major shot in the arm ahead of the Six Nations squad announcement next week.
Sportsmail are reporting that the 31-year-old is set to take over from Sam Warburton as Wales captain for the upcoming tournament, which will in turn show off his credentials for leading the Lions in their tour of New Zealand in the summer.
Rob Howley will name his first squad of the Six Nations in the coming days, at which point Jones’ appointment should be made official.
Warburton had dropped major hints in the past few days suggesting that he would be stepping down from the role this year as he looked to win what has become a fierce scrap for the openside flanker position with Justin Tipuric.
The 28-year-old was the favourite to lead the collective team against the All Blacks, having already captained them in Australia four years previously, in the wake of Dylan Hartley’s sending off against Leinster in early December.
Earlier reports of stepping down from the Welsh role, which will probably in turn rule him out of the Lions captaincy, looked to have cleared the way for Ireland’s Rory Best to take the mantle, but Jones’ emergence gives the Ulsterman a major competitor.
Brian O’Driscoll also believes that it is now a two-horse race, explaining why Jones would make a perfect captain on the tour:
“Alun-Wyn Jones must be a favourite to lead the Lions in New Zealand with some towering displays for club and country.
“ In my opinion, given recent events, Alun-Wyn and Rory Best are now clear favourites for the honour of Lions Captain – watch this space.“
Support for Jones appears to be growing in certain quarters, and depending how he fares as Wales captain in the Six Nations he could yet make it impossible for Warren Gatland to ignore him.