DEBATE: Should Gatland select Warburton as Lions captain?

Sport360's duo of Matt Jones and Alex Broun argue whether Gatland should select Sam Warburton as Lions captain or not.

Sport360 staff
by Sport360 staff
17th April 2017

article:17th April 2017

Warburton has endured an injury plagued year.
Warburton has endured an injury plagued year.

While Welsh flanker Sam Warburton might be a favourite to be given the nod as the skipper of the Lions when the squad is announced on Wednesday, nothing can be said until the final call is made.

Should Warren Gatland select Sam Warburton as Lions captain?

Let us know your thoughts as our two writers discuss the topic.

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The majority of fans and critics will have you believe the Lions won’t win a series in the land of the long white cloud with the unassuming Sam Warburton as skipper.

They will say a leader with passion, fire and desire is needed. Someone who grimaces and grabs team-mates by the scruff of the neck.

That only with a true warrior at the head of the pride, can the Lions be victorious. Someone like Dylan Hartley or Rory Best. Players who embody a blood and thunder style of leadership.

But, in the cauldron-like surroundings of Eden Park and Westpac Stadium, cool, calm heads will be needed for the Lions to be successful.

Who better than Warburton – a man known as Captain Cool. Neither Hartley or Best are guaranteed to start, while Gatland cannot rely on the England firebrand to stay on the pitch, with concerns over both his temperament and fitness.

Sam Warburton.

Sam Warburton.

Don’t mistake Warburton’s friendly demeanour for a lack of fight. He amassed 62 tackles in the Six Nations (fourth most) and was responsible for five turnovers (third most).

His style of captaincy has been compared to that of Martin Johnson’s, a leader renowned for his quiet resolve rather than table-thumping.

“We just followed Johnno. Sam reminds me of [Johnson] in the way he goes about his captaincy,” Lions kicking coach Neil Jenkins has said. It is no coincidence that the Lions’ last series win prior to Australia was South Africa in 1997 with Johnson at the helm.

People will have their opinions, but the only one that counts is Gatland’s. The Kiwi has worked side-by-side with Warburton for years, the two know each other inside out and Gatland obviously trusts him.

He led the Lions to a first series win in 16 years in 2013, so why would Gatland not go for a tried and trusted deputy who has been there and done it before.


Even in this era when sport keeps getting bigger and bigger the British and Irish Lions remain one of the biggest shows on earth.

They represent the pride of four extremely proud nations and the hopes of over 50 million people as they try to become just the second ever Lions team to win a series in New Zealand.

From the moment they step off the plane the Lions will be under immense scrutiny – in both hemispheres – and with a media pack of over 100 hungry journalists dissecting their every move.

The last thing they need is a captain hobbling off the plane setting off a few thousand stories on whether or not he will be fit to play the first Test on June 24.

“Warburton Watch” will be in full swing, with Warren Gatland called upon on a daily basis to say his captain will be fine, Warburton himself tasked with smiling bravely and an army of physios to rub, prod, stretch and test his left knee.

When you are facing the best rugby players on the planet on the field, and the most rabid supporters off it, the last thing you need is distractions – and that is what “Warburton Watch” would become very quickly.

Warburton is a princely young man who carries himself extremely well in public and has many great seasons under his belt.

He was a big part of Wales’ charge in the 2011 RWC, until he was sent off in the semi-final. He was also a key part of the Lions victory in Australia four years ago, but remember he did not play in the deciding third Test, when Alun Wyn Jones took over.

Indeed with so many great flankers available there is a school of thought that Warburton should not even be on tour.

As Stuart Barnes wrote recently, the Lions need ball carriers not tacklers on this tour – and Warburton is not a ball carrier.

Perhaps Sam’s role could be best served as mid-week captain – if he can prove his fitness.