British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland has warned that whoever he selects to be his captain for this summer’s tour to New Zealand will not be guaranteed a starting place.
Gatland is set to name his skipper when he selects the squad next month and has indicated that he has six candidates in mind, thought to be the four Home Nations captains, previous Lions skipper Sam Warburton and England back Owen Farrell.
“I think the captaincy is a great honour, but whoever the captain is going to be there’ll be no guarantee he plays in the Tests,” Gatland, who led the Lions to a series win in Australia in 2013, told the BBC.
“His form has to be good enough. I think whoever that person is has to rise to that. The message to that person is: it’s a great honour to captain the Lions but your form has to be good enough to be selected for the Tests.
“For the other players in that position I’ll be having the same conversation. You say ‘if your form is good enough and you play better than the captain, then there’s every opportunity you can play in the Tests’.”
Gatland’s position did not convince former Lions and England coach Sir Clive Woodward, however, who insists the captain must play and backed Warburton to fulfil the role again.
“You need one person who is going to be in the Test team without a shadow of a doubt – a Brian O’Driscoll, Martin Johnson, Lawrence Dallaglio type of figure,” said Woodward.
“Personally I have always been a huge fan of Sam Warburton. He knows Warren well, he’s been a successful Lions captain already. Would he be in the starting team? Absolutely – the first name on the sheet.”
The Lions start their 10-match tour in June, with the three-Test series set to conclude on 8 July in Auckland.