Belfast Telegraph

Drico backs Jones to put up fight in bid to lead Lions

By Jack Austin

Brian O’Driscoll is tipping Ireland’s history boys to make up the bulk of the Lions squad after their success against New Zealand this year, although he believes the captaincy will once again go to a Welshman.

Ireland ended a 111-year hoodoo against the All Blacks in November after winning 40-29 in front of an astonished Chicago crowd.

Aside from those already expected to make the 27-hour flight to New Zealand — half-backs Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton are contenders to start — the likes of Iain Henderson and Devin Toner put their hands up in the second row, which is arguably the most fiercely contested of all the positions up for grabs.

Scotland have never beaten the All Blacks, while England’s last victory came  in 2012 and Wales’ as long ago as 1953. Only a handful of Englishmen who were involved that day are in with a Lions shout, leaving the current Ireland squad as those with the most relevant credentials for beating the All Blacks — something Drico thinks will be at the forefront of head coach Warren Gatland’s thinking.

“If you’re a Lions coach, you do want to remind yourself of players who have had joy against the team that you’re playing against — no difference to the English guys in 2012,” said O’Driscoll.

“Being able to win big Test matches against Southern Hemisphere teams becomes a big thing. It’s really about what happens between now and the Six Nations when it comes to who is going to get selected.

“What you’ve done in the past year has planted a seed in the coach’s mind but the November Test matches and the Six Nations are what is going to count to Gats.

“Knowing that they’ve managed to beat them in the rugby year and that they know what it takes (is important) and that’s sometimes a stumbling block when you take on the best teams in the world.”

One of the biggest debates has surrounded who will lead the Lions. Last time Sam Warburton had the honour, and with the successful coaching staff returning — except Graham Rowntree, who has been replaced by Steve Borthwick — the Welshman could also reprise his role.

Dylan Hartley was the favourite after leading England to a perfect 2016, but his candidacy took a major hit with his red card for Northampton Saints this month, while Ulster ace Rory Best’s Ireland performances have shot him towards the front of the queue.

However, O’Driscoll has backed Alun Wyn Jones, who captained the Lions in the final 2013 Test against the Wallabies in Warburton’s absence, despite him vying for a position in the uber-competitive second row.

“I think Alun Wyn is in the mix,” said O’Driscoll.

“I know the second row with (George) Kruis and (Maro) Itoje looks great but I wouldn’t be shocked to see Itoje brought as a second row or back row option.

“Alun Wyn has lots of experience, he captained (the Lions) in the final game in 2013, he’s got a huge engine, I like him as a player and Gats knows him.

“No doubt he will be able to communicate well with him having coached him for a number of years.”

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