Maro Itoje backed by Sam Warburton to captain British and Irish Lions on South Africa tour

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George Flood
·2-min read
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<p>Maro Itoje is considered a definite starter for the Lions in South Africa</p> (Getty Images)

Maro Itoje is considered a definite starter for the Lions in South Africa

(Getty Images)

England lock Maro Itoje has received the backing of Sam Warburton to captain the British and Irish Lions in South Africa this summer.

Itoje is considered among the top contenders to lead Warren Gatland’s touring side in three Tests against the world champion Springboks in July and August.

Alun Wyn Jones is arguably the favourite, however, having led Wales since succeeding Warburton in 2017 and also become rugby’s most-capped player of all time.

Jones also offers a wealth of Lions experience, having played on each of the last three tours and captained the team for their memorable series-deciding win over Australia in Sydney in 2013 after Warburton suffered a tour-ending injury.

Scotland skipper Stuart Hogg is another potential candidate, though Warburton - tour captain in 2013 and in New Zealand four years later - gives the edge to Itoje despite his high penalty count in England’s disastrous Six Nations campaign, with Jones set to battle Ireland’s James Ryan for a starting berth alongside the Saracens star.

"I've gone back and forth, but I'll go with who I thought at the very beginning and that's Maro Itoje," Warburton said of the Lions captaincy.

"Anybody who looked at the first game of the Six Nations against Scotland where he conceded four or five penalties would say 'oh you can't do that', but that was a bit of rustiness.

"Warren will want him primed and ready to go as he's one of the players who will be a guaranteed Test starter. I was extremely impressed with him in 2017 and Warren would have seen all that as well.

"The other captaincy candidates are a little bit older. You question whether it would be a bit too much pressure for them to go through a tour like this at the end of the season.

"I've gone back and forth with him and Alun Wyn Jones. Alun Wyn will be up there and I'm sure will captain games on tour, but I would probably go with Maro Itoje.

"The reason I say Maro as captain is because I think he's a dead cert and it's between Alun Wyn and James Ryan to battle it out for that number five shirt.

"Warren knows the pressure on the captain if they are not a guaranteed starter and I think there are six bankers to start a Test - Tadhg Furlong, Maro Itoje, Taulupe Faletau, Tom Curry, Anthony Watson and Stuart Hogg.

"I don't think he will pick a back as captain, so the other player who has the leadership experience he will want is Maro. If Alun Wyn is captain, though, you know you will be in safe hands."

Additional reporting by PA.

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