BRITISH and Irish Lions great Sir Ian McGeechan insists Brian O’Driscoll is still a leading candidate to skipper the tour of Australia, despite losing the Ireland captaincy to Jamie Heaslip.
The most decorated Lions head coach in history believes O’Driscoll remains in a four-way tussle for the honour with Heaslip, England’s Chris Robshaw and Welshman Sam Warburton.
Erstwhile Wales coach Warren Gatland will be scouring the Six Nations from Saturday in order to finalise his squad, and McGeechan thinks the “incredible” 34-year-old “could still be a very important part of the Lions team”.
“Warren Gatland has that rapport with Sam Warburton and needs him to be playing well,” McGeechan, who coached the Lions on their last successful tour in 1997, told City A.M.
“But you’ve got a change of captain in Ireland which will be interesting to see. I do like Jamie as a player and if he comes through then you’ve got him in the mix. Chris Robshaw has done a fantastic job. Those are the things that Warren has to take into consideration.
“At the moment I wouldn’t put O’Driscoll out of it. He’s got great Lions experience and is great on tour. There are four players who could be in the mix.”
Which fly-halves will jet off with the Lions in less than four months’ time is another of Gatland’s conundrums, and McGeechan believes Gloucester No10 Freddie Burns, who shone for England in the autumn, may sneak in, but warns he must flesh out talent with performances.
“The strongest No10 is probably Jonathan Sexton, but one who has come forward, and has a fantastic attitude, is Owen Farrell,” he added.
“He’s very different, but has an ability to keep the team in the right place when under pressure. Then you have someone like Freddie Burns. If they keep emerging, they could be the three they take. You just want to see a bit more to make sure they’ve got that consistency.”
McGeechan, who struck gold by pairing O’Driscoll with Jamie Roberts of Wales in 2009, stresses that combinations are an often underestimated but paramount selection consideration.
“Roberts and O’Driscoll ultimately produced arguably the best centre partnership in world rugby in 2009,” he said. “In the third Test Riki Flutey and Tommy Bowe produced another completely different centre combination but they couldn’t have been more effective. They brought the best out of each other. That to me is the essence of the Lions.”
Sir Ian McGeechan is the ambassador for FirstCape wine which has launched ww.lionswineclub.com in association with The British & Irish Lions. For more information about FirstCape wine visit www.firstcape.com