Warburton set to be named Lions captain
April 29, 2013
Lions coach Warren Gatland looks likely to stick with a man he knows well - Wales captain Sam Warburton © PA Photos
Wales' Sam Warburton is expected to be named as the British & Irish Lions' captain in London on Tuesday morning.
Warburton has reportedly seen off the challenge of Ireland lock Paul O'Connell to claim the honour for the eagerly-anticipated tour to Hong Kong and Australia later this year with Lions coach Warren Gatland poised to confirm the flanker as his choice when he announces his squad to the rugby world at 11.00am (BST). At 24, Warburton would become Wales' youngest Lions tour captain and the first since Phil Bennett led the elite tourists to New Zealand in 1977.
Gatland appointed Warburton as Wales skipper in 2011 and he went on to steer his country to the Rugby World Cup semi-finals and a Six Nations Grand Slam the following year. Wales made it back-to-back championship victories earlier this year with Warburton losing his place and the captaincy through injury. He turned down the chance to lead his country again on his return to form and fitness in favour of concentrating on his own game but Gatland, who held his final selection meeting earlier today, clearly has no concerns about his ability to lead.
Lions legend Sir Ian McGeechan believes the long-standing relationship between Gatland and Warburton will have been key in the selection process. "I think he would be Warren's favourite," McGeechan told Press Association Sport.
"You do have to have that captain-coach relationship because you need to be honest and get really good feedback, and you need trust both ways, what you are thinking about and how you are developing things. You need someone you feel you know well. That is the obvious combination.
"It's a great challenge and a huge responsibility because you are heading up four countries and you have to be comfortable with that. If he is happy with that in his head, then he's favourite.
"It all comes down to the coach-captain relationship. I chose Finlay Calder in 1989 just because I knew him well and knew the sort of things he could do and how good he was at bringing players together.
"It was the same with Gavin Hastings in 1993 and I had Martin Johnson because I knew the respect that he had from every player. I always felt the captain has to be worth his Test place, but he has to have that sort of respect from three other countries about the position he holds."
Wales' recent dominance of the northern hemisphere stage is likely to be reflected in the make-up of the squad with Warburton set to spearhead a 38-man squad dominated by up to 15 of his countrymen. Ireland are also expected to be well represented while England could provide nine players - the same they claimed in 2009 - with Scotland likely to be restricted to a maximum of four tourists.
England captain Chris Robshaw is widely expected to be a major casualty when the squad is announced with Gatland spoilt for choice for back-row options. If Robshaw fails to make the grade, he will become the third England captain of the professional era to miss out on a Lions tour following Phil de Glanville (1997) and Steve Borthwick (2009).
None of the players will know their fate until tour manager Andy Irvine reads out the names during a mid-morning press conference at Syon House in Middlesex. Gatland will then announce and introduce his captain to the media.
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