Venter: Itoje is not ready to lead Lions

Former Bok centre and Saracens coach Brendan Venter believes Maro Itoje has enough to contribute without captaining the British & Irish Lions during their tour of South Africa in 2021.

Itoje is one of the names heavily tipped to lead the Lions against the Springboks next year. The 25-year-old captained the England U20 side to the Junior World Championship in 2014 and started all three Tests against the All Blacks during the Lions tour of New Zealand in 2017 – despite being the youngest player in the squad at 22.

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In an in-depth interview with Planet Rugby, Venter opined that while Itoje has an ‘immense potential’, he will have enough on his plate without the pressure that comes with the captain’s armband.

‘Personally, I don’t think Maro is ready to be that leader yet,’ Venter said. ‘I think he has immense potential, he’s a good man.

‘He has good values but I think it will be difficult for him, and Maro’s way is contributing to a team in so many other ways. If you take a young man and expect him to be a leader of the British and Irish Lions, I’m not sure if that makes sense.

‘But, you never know. He has another year to develop and you never know what will happen during that period.’

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Other players linked to the captaincy include Wales veteran Alun Wyn Jones and England’s Owen Farrell.

‘Owen has been so successful – for Saracens and England – and he did well in New Zealand as well with the British and Irish Lions [in 2017],’ Venter said. ‘Also, because he is so experienced, I think someone like Owen would be a good choice in the end but, if Warren Gatland decides to go with a majority of players from Wales, it could be someone else as captain.’

Lions coach Warren Gatland has hinted that Itoje is already on his radar for the captaincy in an interview with Rugby World in June.

‘Itoje is the name that keeps cropping up,’ Gatland said. ‘He’s an intelligent player and an intelligent man and has been incredibly successful in his career. He would definitely be in contention as one of the possibilities as captain.’

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