AS the season draws to a close, attention begins to turn towards selection for the British and Irish Lions tour to Hong Kong and Australia.
The squad will be announced on April 30. Coach Warren Gatland had a number of selection meetings during the Six Nations, but he has also waited so he could take account of how players are doing in European Cup competitions.
One of Gatland’s most critical selections is Lions captain.
Get that right and he can galvanise and inspire the squad to bring them together so the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Get the wrong captain, and the whole tour can fragment and disintegrate. The problem is Gatland has no stand-out leaders from the captains in the four home unions. What’s more, none of them would be guaranteed their place in the test team, which is a fundamental issue.
The captain has to be the first player inked in to the teamsheet when the Test side is selected.
All of the home union captains played in the back row and this is where the competition for places is at its most fierce.
Few could argue against picking Justin Tipuric as openside in the Test team, which would effectively rule out Chris Robshaw, Kelly Brown and Sam Warburton as potential captains, while Jamie Heaslip is hardly in the best of form at the moment.
In a recent interview Gatland hinted that his tour captain would be a forward. He said: “I can’t remember the last time I picked a captain from the backs. I don’t think I ever have”.
That might indicate he has ruled out Brian O’ Driscoll as skipper. But the Irishman is the stand-out outside centre and he has the respect of his peer group as well as extensive experience of what it means to be a Lion.
If Gatland did decide to go for a three quarter, O’ Driscoll would be a sound choice.
But Paul O’ Connell is another who, on his way back from injury, must be forcing his way back into contention to lead a second tour. The man from Munster was in imperious form in the Heineken Cup quarter-final against Harlequins and will now be a contender.
I think that either of the Irishmen would make excellent captains for the 2013 tour and given O’ Driscoll’s likely retirement, what a great way to go out with a winning tour Down Under.
He would be my pick.