O’Connell my shout for captain as Lions hopefuls await the call

John Inverdale
A COUPLE of weeks ago, 60 rugby players across the Home Nations were sent invitations inquiring as to their availability for the British and Irish Lions tour to Australia this summer. It’s a pretty safe bet that none apologised citing a prior commitment to a christening or stag weekend.

Tomorrow, all bar one will anxiously be watching televisions at 11am as Warren Gatland reads out the 30-odd players he has selected in a bid to win a first tour series since 1997. The “one” is the captain who will be told tonight that he has been entrusted with the most prestigious job in the game. But who will it be?

Until England ran into a red steamroller in Cardiff, the perceived wisdom was that it would be Chris Robshaw. In rugby clubs nationwide this weekend, the question of whether he would even make the party was being discussed.

Wales’s occasional captain Sam Warburton is now odds-on favourite, ahead of seasoned Irish leaders Paul O’Connell and Brian O’Driscoll. Gatland clearly trusts the man who led Wales to a Grand Slam last year, but will he make the Test team? Fresh and ferocious after just a few games back for Munster, O’Connell would surely be a safer bet.

Equally interesting is who gets the call at No10. If Ireland’s Jonny Sexton is first choice, who will support him? Jonny Wilkinson against Owen Farrell was as big as yesterday’s Heineken Cup semi-final itself. Ronan O’Gara effectively announced his retirement after Munster lost on Saturday. Toby Flood? Greig Laidlaw? There must be someone else. Oh yes: Danny Cipriani. The man who came back to English rugby with the words “The Lions in 2013 are at the forefront of my mind” will watch the tour on TV after a bus was literally in the forefront of his mind last week.

So plenty of food for thought for Gatland. Too many Welsh? Too few Scots? Have a fiver on Sean Maitland making the plane. Christian Wade of Wasps to be the first uncapped Lion since Will Greenwood? It’ll be agonising watching for the players. If the party is named in alphabetical order, imagine being Ben Youngs. Or worse still, brother Tom. A guessing game that has entertained us for months has just one day left to run. It’s almost a shame it will be over.