To be named captain of the British and Irish Lions is one of the greatest honours a rugby union player can aspire to. With the 2017 Lions tour looming, speculation on who will be honoured this time around is mounting.
Before the Six Nations championships there were three names considered to be the front runners for the captaincy; Ireland captain Rory Best, England captain Dylan Hartley and newly minted Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones.
The merits of each has been discussed and explored ad nauseam by fans and the media alike and it is agreed that in each a good Lions captain would be found.
Each have a wealth of experience on the biggest of international stages, both in the arenas of defeat and victory. Each is respected by their peers for their commitment to their cause.
With the 2017 Six Nations now in the history books however, Lions head coach Warren Gatland could be facing into something of a dilemma regarding his assumed shortlist for the captaincy.
Simply put, none of the three can, on the back of their Six Nations performances, be guaranteed a place in Gatland’s starting XV.
With Hartley and Best both lining out as hookers for club and country, there was always going to a winner and loser with these two. This made the prospect of Wyn Jones being awarded the job seem a more likely eventuality.
However, the Welsh captain faces incredibly strong competition for a place in the Lions pack, particularly in the second row. England’s pairing of Joe Lanuchbury and Courtney Lawes were the standout second row of the Six Nations and must surely be considered the starting locks for the Lions.
Even as a possible replacement, Wyn Jones must contend with the likes of Ireland’s Donnacha Ryan, Peter O’Mahony, Iain Henderson and Devin Toner. Then there is Scotland’s Gray brothers, Jonny and Richie.
Though exceptionally experienced, respected and inspirational, the question must be asked whether Wyn Jones can break up the English stranglehold on the second row for the New Zealand tests. If not then what good is a captain that resides on the bench for much of the match?
Going back to Hartley and Best, neither delivered a consistently impressive Six Nations performance. Best was left wanting against Wales in Cardiff while Hartley was largely anonymous for England’s games against France and Ireland.
Looking at a potential starting hooker for the Lions and it is in fact Wales hooker Ken Owens that delivered the standout performance during the Six Nations. On form alone, Owens should get the nod.
So where does this leave Gatland his three supposed captain contenders?
With none assured of their place based on form, will the New Zealand native reward leadership over form? Should he?
Who could he possibly turn to if not these three? Owen Farrell has been marked as a future England captain so perhaps this is an option.
Ireland’s Peter O’Mahony returned to his awe inspiring best against England following a long injury layoff and as Munster captain he already commands huge respect. Another option for Gatland perhaps?
Alun Wyn Jones remains the favourite among bookmakers however, and if proven correct, we could see a squad captain relying on his vice-captains to lead, should he fail to make the starting XV or even the bench.
At the end of the day, the Lions will have a multitude of leaders in the squad, from club and international captains, to vice-captains and experienced veterans.
Whatever Gatland does decide, leadership will not be a problem.
Gary Brennan, Pundit Arena