Gatland warning for Lions captain hopefuls
October 31, 2012
Lions boss Warren Gatland has backed himself to make any tough calls when it comes to the make-up of his squad © Getty Images
British & Irish Lions boss Warren Gatland insists form will be the key factor in deciding not only who will tour Australia next year but who will captain the squad.
Wales' Sam Warburton, England's Chris Robshaw and Ireland duo Paul O'Connell and Brian O'Driscoll have all been linked with the honour of leading the elite tourists Down Under but Gatland is adamant that the skipper must warrant his place in the side.
"We'll pick the best players, and the captain after," Gatland told The Times. "The thing at the moment is your captain has got to guarantee selection and there are areas where there are two or three players in a position.
"I'll back myself to make a call on someone who is not just a good captain but is playing well enough for their spot. Then if there's someone playing well who deserves to be selected over the captain, that's a tough call."
Gatland also revealed to talkSPORT that the tour captain may not even make the Test side. "Someone may come through on tour whose form you can't ignore and who may force themselves into the Test side," he said.
"Potentially you could have a Lions captain who doesn't make the Test side. I'm prepared to make those hard decisions though. You pick a Lions captain and at the time he's the right person for the job and he's properly the best in his position, but that's no guarantee that he'll get selected for the Test side."
Gatland also revealed that he has no preference for a forward or a back when it comes to spearheading the Lions' quest for a first series win since 1997 and a first success against the Wallabies since 1989.
"I don't have a preference for a forward," he said. "It's more important that they earn the respect of the squad by performing. He doesn't have to be the leader of a club or national team, it might be someone like Brian O'Driscoll or Paul O'Connell who has done it before but it could be someone who has made an impact over six to 12 months."
Gatland is more concerned by creating a winning environment and wary of the relatively little amount of preparation time he will have with the squad before they depart for their 10-match tour that will begin with a warm-up game against the Barbarians in Hong Kong.
"The big thing is creating the right environment and getting cohesion in the group," Gatland said. "You've got a lot of guys who've been No 1 for clubs and countries, and here they might not be. How they handle the disappointment of not being picked for the Tests is even more important than the 15 who play. If we get it wrong, that could be the most destructive thing.
"We've got such a short time to prepare that we need character and personality, things people bring off the field."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
"This team deserves to be recognised as the greatest of all time." Huw Richards looks at Gareth Edwards' final match for Wales
The two leading contenders for the best modern open-side flanker go head to head in Paris on Saturday. John Taylor assesses the tale of the tape
Move over, Castro - from falling off a chair to stepping off the team bus, Scrum Sevens recounts some of the strangest rugby injuries ever
Martin Gillingham on the latest from France and why the national side can learn a thing or two from Top 14 side Bordeaux Begles