Sir Ian McGeechan says England lock Maro Itoje should captain the British & Irish Lions on their tour of South Africa in 2021 instead of Alun Wyn Jones who is ‘no longer a potential starter’.
McGeechan, who played for the Lions and coached them on three tours, believes Jones should be made the midweek captain, with Itoje leading the team in the three Test series against the Boks.
‘Itoje is the likely skipper of this Lions party,’ McGeechan wrote in his Daily Telegraph column.
‘He was outstandingly influential in [the drawn series with the All Blacks in] 2017, growing with every game and really asserting himself in the biggest games. His game involvement is very high, and his discipline is now excellent.
‘When you go to South Africa you have to match their forwards for physicality, and it’s no coincidence that every Lions side to tour South Africa in the past 50 years was captained by second rows – Willie-John McBride in 1974, Bill Beaumont in 1980, Martin Johnson in 1997 and Paul O’Connell in 2009.’
McGeechan said Itoje’s ability and that of ‘so many other potential Lions locks’ to play in the back row should encourage Lions coach Warren Gatland to take six second rows.
‘James Ryan will go, and I really rate the versatile Iain Henderson so would definitely take him, as I would Courtney Lawes, who was brilliant in New Zealand. I’m also a Joe Launchbury fan, while Jonny Gray, Johnny Hill, Scott Cummings, George Kruis and Quinn Roux are also in contention.’
He added that Jones, world rugby’s most capped Test player, should lead the midweek team but not the Test team because he is ‘no longer a potential starter’ in the Test team.
‘He is a born winner and Lions legend, and on such a short tour Warren will desperately need players who can lead by example, especially in training as well as on the field.’
McGeechan then listed Itoje as one of six players who could have ‘a momentous 2021’ with the Lions.
The others were Scotland flanker Jamie Ritchie, Ireland loose forward Caelan Doris, Scotland flyhalf Finn Russell, England centre Ollie Lawrence and Wales’ teenage wing Louis Rees-Zammit, who McGeechan believes ‘has the pace to excel on the hard, fast grounds in South Africa’.
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