And so, the curtain comes down on one yet another Six Nations campaign.
From Italian inventiveness at the breakdown and a Scottish resurgence in form to a farcical 100th minute winning try for France and Ireland’s stunning final showdown with England, this was a competition that had it all. Save for a Grand Slam of course.
Or perhaps, a stand-out Lions captain. That isn’t to say that the contenders didn’t step up to the plate however. Rory Best consistently went out of his way to communicate with referees, Alun Wyn Jones provided perennial leadership to his Welsh charges and Dylan Hartley ultimately lead England to a second consecutive Six Nations. There were even several outside bets that put their hands up for selection such as the irrepressible Maro Itoje and Irish scrum-half Conor Murray.
Such is the competitiveness, that it’s difficult to pick out any one player that is assured of a starting berth in the tests in New Zealand. Indeed Jamie George has been widely heralded as the best hooker in the competition, as opposed to Rory Best or Dylan Hartley, despite not being deemed deserving of England’s starting XV by Eddie Jones. Gatland however, appears intent on pouring cold water on the notion that the captain must start the tests in New Zealand.
As quoted by the BBC, Gatland said “The captaincy is a great honour, but whoever the captain is, there’ll be no guarantee he plays,” having already pointed out that “half a dozen players are in contention” be selected as tour captain.
Indeed such is the plethora of possible captains, it’s difficult to know who Gatland’s assertion would aid most. Best and Hartley face a competition from each other and the aforementioned Jamie Geroge while Welsh totem Alun Wyn Jones finds himself in one of the most competitive positions of all, second row. The claims to a starting XV of Murray, Itoje and even Owen Farrell appear stronger, although given their age profile and captaining experience at this level, their design on being captain will likely wait until 2021.
Interestingly, Clive Woodward, speaking on BBC radio, disagrees with Gatland’s assertion that the captain need not start.
You need one person who is going to be in the Test team without a shadow of a doubt – a Brian O’Driscoll, a Martin Johnson, a Lawrence Dallaglio type of figure,” Woodward insisted, before concluding that he would be a ‘a huge fan of Sam Warburton’.
Needless to say, the rumours and speculation regarding the selection will only build in the coming weeks. One thing we can say for sure is Gatland is hardly the type of coach to drop any major hints before the squad is ultimately announced on April 19th.