Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 22 November 2014

Gatland would drop tour captain

Warren Gatland will have no issue dropping his Lions captain if he is not performing
Warren Gatland will have no issue dropping his Lions captain if he is not performing

British & Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland would have no hesitation in leaving his tour captain out of the Test side in Australia next summer.

The likes of Wales captain Sam Warburton, who is struggling for his best form, England counterpart Chris Robshaw, and Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll have been mentioned as candidates to lead the Lions Down Under, although a decision will not be revealed until the squad is named in the spring.

"Whoever is appointed captain we would have spoken about it before with the squad and reiterated it's all about performing," said Gatland. "If that means picking the best team and leaving the captain out because someone else is playing better, then I am more than comfortable and prepared to do that."

The Lions captaincy is arguably the greatest honour that can be bestowed on any player from the four home unions, and marked out the likes of Willie John McBride and Martin Johnson as the finest rugby leaders of their generations.

Such is the magnitude of leading the Lions it has been rare for a captain to miss out on Test selection for any reason other than injury, as was the case with O'Driscoll in New Zealand in 2005.

Scotland lock Mike Campbell-Lamerton famously dropped himself while leading the 1966 tour of New Zealand, but Ireland hooker Ciaran Fitzgerald captained the 1983 tour, also to New Zealand, and made the side for all four Tests despite his poor form.

Gatland added: "It is a professional game and we have to protect the Lions in the best possible way we can by picking the best possible players.

"You could potentially pick an experienced player - these are just some of my thoughts - and you could say 'you might be tour captain but there is a chance you might not be good enough to be selected for the Tests. But you could be very good for us as a tour captain and if your form is good enough you get selected'.

"There are a lot of potential options. Number one is picking a captain whose form is good enough to be in the Test team and has the respect of the squad, but if that is not the case you have to look at alternatives or other scenarios.

"Picking the squad will hopefully cover all of those issues."

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