The former Lions skipper picks out the England captain for leadership role

Paul O’Connell backs Owen Farrell as Lions captain

Captain of the 2009 British & Irish Lions tour, Paul O’Connell knows a thing or two about playing the South Africans. And so when he talks about leadership contenders for the 2021 trip, it makes sense to listen. But since every Lions captain to play the Springboks since 1974 has been a second-row, not many will have expected him to name a back as a favourite for skipper.

“I like Owen Farrell. He’s a real standout leader for me,” O’Connell told PA this week. “With matches being played without crowds, you can hear so much of what the players are saying during games. You can hear Owen barking at his own players and encouraging them. A lot of it is about getting off the line and the physical side of the game, but a lot of it is also coaching people into position as well.

“He’s pretty experienced, he’s been on two tours already and he has a big leadership role with England. It wouldn’t be unfamiliar territory for him.

“There are plenty of guys who could do the job, but for me in terms of experience and an appetite to lead, he’s the real standout.

“When you pick a captain or leaders for the Lions tour, it’s about picking guys who are willing to take ownership of what the plan is. Owen is a guy who enjoys leading and enjoys taking ownership. He’s almost coaching.”

O'Connell backs Owen Farrell

Alun Wyn Jones for the Lions against New Zealand, 2017 (Getty Images)

As it stands, Wales hero Alun Wyn Jones is the favourite to be named captain, with  Farrell, Maro Itoje, Stuart Hogg and Ken Owens other names being thrown around. But with England’s Six Nations results so poor, and with Saracens playing in the Championship this season, some have raised concerns over the form of frontline England stars. But O’Connell backs Owen Farrell despite this.

“As a team England didn’t play as well as they’d have liked in the Six Nations,” O’Connell said. “Is that a reflection on Owen Farrell? I don’t really think so.

“But it’s probably a bit of a challenge for him now going from the Six Nations to not having a lot of class rugby. England’s form isn’t a good thing, but it gives him perspective on how hard it is to get it right.”

Addressing the other captaincy contenders, O’Connell also said: “If Alun Wyn Jones isn’t captain, he doesn’t change how he behaves. He’s still the same character.

“He’s another standout candidate, but you just wonder sometimes if a guy who has captained an awful lot and who didn’t have an awful lot of games coming into a fantastic Six Nations, if it would be good for him not to be captain for once.

“He’d be able to concentrate on his own game and support someone like a Farrell.

“I’d love to see Maro playing great rugby. He’s already a line-out caller. Alun Wyn captains Wales but doesn’t call the line-out, it’s a stress they take away from him which allows him to do his job better. You might think the same of Maro Itoje.”

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