Owen Farrell 'world class' and in frame for Lions captaincy, says Warren Gatland
By Michael Cantillon
Last Updated: 21/03/17 7:54am
British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland has told Sky Sports News HQ that Owen Farrell is "world class" and firmly in the mix for the Lions captaincy.
The Lions squad will be announced on April 19, and though Gatland stressed that there is too much of an obsession placed on the captaincy, he also revealed that Saracens back Farrell, Wales international Sam Warburton and England captain Dylan Hartley are all in the equation.
Speaking of England's current inside-centre Farrell, Gatland praised his development, flexibility, and credentials as a leader.
"I know his [Farrell] name has been discussed," Gatland said. "The beauty of him at the moment is that he can cover two positions, 10 and 12.
"He's a great goal kicker, I think the way he has developed in the last three or four years, he is absolutely world class and I'm probably not giving too much away by saying he has a good chance of being selected.
"He's a real competitor. He probably didn't have his best game against Italy, and he'd admit that himself, but other than that he has played exceptionally well in the rest of the Six Nations.
"He's a fighter, he's a winner and I just really admire the way he has developed as a player. He is potentially in the mix to discuss as well."
Warburton led the Lions on their victorious 2013 tour of Australia, but did not captain Wales during the most recent Six Nations with the armband handed to Alun Wyn Jones.
The flanker went on to establish himself as one of the tournament's top performers and Gatland has confirmed he remains in consideration for the role.
"He's [Warburton] been under a bit of pressure and had injuries and it's such an attritional position," he said.
"I think the relationship between Justin Tipuric and Sam [Warburton] playing at 6 with Justin at 7 has worked well for the Welsh in this campaign.
"He's definitely someone in contention but the first thing for us, and there seems to be an obsession with the captaincy, is to pick the squad first and then look at potentially who can captain the Lions.
"For me, the first thing with a Lions captain is, if you're picking a Lions starting XV tomorrow, I'd look at it and go, 'do I think that person's likely to start?' There'd be no guarantees of course but that will potentially narrow it down for the captain of the Lions.
"But for some positions there's so much competition it's going to be pretty tough to narrow down a captain, and whoever captains the team, it's a great honour but two or three other people are going to have to fulfil that role during the tour anyway in other games and you're going to need leadership from all parts of the squad. That's going to be incredibly important.
"We make such a big deal about the captaincy, and we probably get a bit too carried away with it, but it's about picking the squad first, getting that right and then picking the captaincy role secondary."
England may have failed to win consecutive Grand Slams against Ireland on Saturday, but Hartley has still led them to two Six Nations crowns, and Gatland insisted that despite his disciplinary issues, he can not be ignored in discussions for the role.
"You have to look back beyond the weekend and the disappointment England had, he's [Hartley] done a fantastic job," the former Wales boss added.
"He's bounced back from criticism and a bit of controversy with a lot been made of the sin bins, suspensions and sendings off, but I admire the way he's fronted up.
"You have to take your hat off to what he's achieved as England captain. He needs to be someone we consider also."
All 10 games of the British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand will be shown live on Sky Sports, starting June 3.