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Jim Kayes

Jim Kayes has been covering rugby since the late 1990s across print/online, radio and television with The Dominion Post, Stuff.co.nz, TV3 and Newshub, Radio Live and Radio Sport.  He's been to five World Cups, covered almost 200 All Blacks Tests and was on safari with the Lions when the British and Irish side last toured New Zealand, in 2005.

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The Lions Form XV - Round Five

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allblacks.com     21 Mar 2017     Getty Images

Just who will be standing with him when the coin is tossed under the stands at Eden Park before the first test is far from a done deal – for the public at least.

Nationality plays a huge part in who the fans favour for the Lions, with some unable to look past their own team when it comes to form. Some will be quick to suggest coach Warren Gatland suffers from the same affliction if the Kiwi born coach of Wales picks a Welshman to lead the Lions. He should, because two are easily his best options from a pool of six.

QUICK TAP: CAPTAINCY CONUNDRUM SHAPING FOR LIONS

Five of those have been the regular skipper during the Six Nations with Alun Wyn Jones in a superb former at lock for Wales. Though they haven’t got the results they perhaps deserved, Jones is clearly a good leader of men but is unfortunately now under an injury cloud. Rory Best has been consistent for Ireland in a tournament that saw the Irish start with a loss to Scotland and finish with a convincing win against the more heavily fancied England. 

Best obviously knows how to get his troops to rise. He did it against the All Blacks in Chicago last year and was able to get them to lift again in Dublin on Sunday when they did what they’d done to New Zealand at Soldier Field and stopped England at a record equaling 18 consecutive test wins (for a top tier team). England’s captain, the New Zealand born Dylan Hartley, is a good player but the ill discipline that’s dogged the hooker’s career should rule him out of leading the Lions during what will be an intense tour of New Zealand. He’s a powder keg with a very short fuse. John Barclay’s done a good job with Scotland and is a tough, no-nonsense blindside flanker, but he will struggle to make the squad, let alone the test side.

Gatland has made the remarkable declaration that his tour captain may not be the test skipper. "His form has to be good enough,” Gatland told BBC Radio Five Live's Sportsweek programme. “I think whoever that person is has to rise to that, the message to that person is it's a great honour to captain the Lions but your form has to be good enough to be selected for the Tests.”
Former Lions coach Sir Clive Woodward says the obvious captain is Sam Warburton. "You need one person who is going to be in the Test team without a shadow of a doubt, a Brian O'Driscoll, a Martin Johnson, a Lawrence Dallaglio type of figure," he said.

"I have always been a huge fan of Sam Warburton, he knows Warren well, he's been a successful Lions captain already. Would he be in the starting team? Absolutely, the first name on the sheet."

Former Ireland lock Paul O’Connell, who captained the Lions to South Africa in 2009, says the skipper needs to be a man of action, not words. "Sam Warburton certainly does that, he absolutely ends himself whenever he plays for Wales and he did the same when he played for the Lions.

"I mean, the amount of work he gets through, you need someone like that, someone who the players can follow in their example."

Warburton has been rock solid for Wales especially on defence and his combination with openside Justin Tipuric and No. 8 Ross Moriarty has been second-to-none. Ireland’s blindside flanker CJ Stander’s been very good too, but he may yet play No. 8 for Gatland.

Warburton was Gatland’s captain in Australia four years ago and led the Lions in the first two tests till he was injured, and replaced by Jones who guided the Lions to a record 41-16 win in the third and final test in Sydney. The big lock has been a stand out player for Wales in the Six Nations and for me is the leading contender to be this year’s tour captain behind Warburton.

Gatland will have decided who his captain is. If Warburton does get the nod, he will be just the second player to captain the Lions on successive tours. Martin Johnson did it in 1997 and 2001. They won the first tour, to South Africa, and lost the second one to Australia. Warburton won his first series as skipper too, so All Blacks fans will be hoping that pattern continues.

Final round form XV

15 Stuart Hogg (Scotland)
14 George North (Wales)
13 Garry Ringrose (Ireland)
12 Robbie Henshaw (Ireland)
11 Tim Visser (Scotland)
10 Finn Russell (Scotland)
9 Rhys Webb (Wales)
8 Ross Moriarty (Wales)
7 Justin Tipuric (Wales)
6 Sam Warburton (Wales
5 Alun Wyn Jones (Wales)
4 Joe Launchbury (England)
3 Tadhg Furlong (Ireland)
2 Rory Best (Ireland)
1 Joe Marler (England)