Martin Johnson Weighs In On British & Irish Lions Captaincy Debate

Martin Johnson Weighs In On British & Irish Lions Captaincy Debate

Former British and Irish Lions and England captain Martin Johnson has dismissed any suggestion that Alun Wyn Jones will be too old to be the next Lions tour captain.

Speaking to SportsmailJohnson commented on the potential candidates for the next Lions captain with the World Cup winner backing the likes of Wales' captain Alun-Wyn Jones as well as Maro Itoje and Owen Farrell.

The man who captained the Lions to their last triumph over the Springboks in 1997 told Sportsmail: 'You are only looking at playing four or five games on the tour so if he's got the form, no, it's not an issue. And he's certainly got the experience. Willie John (McBride) was what 33-34 when he did it?.'

Warren Gatland highlighted Maro Itoje as a potential candidate for the marquee role and Johnson added: 'What you really want is a captain who is going to get in the Test team and command his position, which is tough because there are lots of good second rows around. It's all to play for.

'There are obviously some guys with credits already. Alun Wyn Jones has a lot as a Lion and as Wales captain. Itoje has got a lot as a player, but they've got to do it all again. They (coaches) won't be picking off 2018, 2019 and 2020. These guys will have to be doing it in 2021.'

England captain Owen Farrell is another who Gatland will consider and Johnson said: 'I'm sure he will be up there in the thick of it' - amongst the prime contenders. His hope is that Farrell or Jones or anyone else with strong claims on the job who ends up being overlooked willingly commits to a support role, as others did for him 23 years ago.

'In 1997, I wasn't any sort of great captain,' he said - of a tour which came six years before he led England to World Cup glory. 'I was very inexperienced at that point. I turned up thinking, "Christ, there are two or three guys here who have a much better CV than me to be captain - and if they're going to be p***ed off, it's going to be a problem". But they weren't. That made it very, very easy for me to be captain.' There is a long-established template for Lions captains in South Africa. They tend to be big, imposing locks.

Johnson recognises that a big Lions captain sends a big statement to the Springboks, their public and media that the tourists mean business - and he relishes the host-nation culture which demands such a mind-set, adding: 'I get it. I love it. I love South Africa and their mentality. They tell you what they think. In 1997, they said, "You're alright, but your scrum is a bit weak" - and it was at that stage.

'It's not like in Australia or New Zealand where you get these mind games. In South Africa, they are just brutally honest. They're blunt, to the point where, as an Anglo-Saxon, you can think it is a bit rude, but it's just how they are. If they don't think you're any good, they'll say so.

'In 1997, we got a bit of stick on the street from the public. They are proud as South Africans and as fans of the Springboks, and they are pretty up-front. But I like their culture. It is a physical game and that's how they play.

Full Interview with Martin Johnson on SportsMail


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