Warburton for Lions captain?

Will Warren Gatland choose Sam Warburton for Lions captain?

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Warburton for Lions captain?

The countdown to the 2017 British and Irish Lions tour has started.

On Wednesday 19th April head coach Warren Gatland will announce his Lions squad ahead of the 2017 tournament, which starts on 3rd June with a match against the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians at the Toll Stadium in Whangarei.

There's still a big question mark hanging over the captain spot.

Sam Warburton is the bookies' favourite. The Welsh international player captained the Lions to a 2:1 series win over the Wallabies in 2013.

However, the flanker is injured. Warburton suffered a 'low-grade median ligament strain' playing for Cardiff Blues against Ulster at the start of April.

He's only expected to have one game to prove his fitness before the Lions squad departs for New Zealand at the end of May.

Speaking to the BBC at the end of the Six Nations in March, Gatland said; “The captain's form has to be good enough. I think whoever that person is has to rise to that; the message is it's a great honour to captain the Lions but your form has to be good enough to be selected for the tests."

There are four other conteders for the captaincy. The current captain of Wales' national team, Alun Wyn Jones is one of them. He captained the Lions in the decisive third test against Australia in 2013, after Warburton was injured.

Rory Best is another name on the list. The Irish hooker and skipper has plenty of leadership experience and he has captained Ireland multiple times, including during the recent win over England in the 2017 Six Nations.

Another hooker up for the role is Dylan Hartley, who was named captain of England in January 2016, prior to the 2016 Six Nations. However his long list of disciplinary issues may count against him.

An outside bet for captaincy would be Saracens and England fly half Owen Farrell, who was nominated for World Rugby Player of the Year in 2016. He lacks leadership experience.

Of course, the choice of captain might not end up being so black and white. Former England captain Jonny Wilkinson has suggested that the Lions will need more than one captain if they are to beat the All Blacks.

"I think maybe having three or four guys in there that you know can take the role of captain. You then have a tour captain maybe. You know then that of those three or four guys, however many of them end up in the team, they are capable of doing that job," Wilkinson told Sky Sports News.

"You cannot go out there with this idea that you have one captain. You can have one captain who is named captain but you will need another leadership group of five or six who have the same inspirational effect and are treated as captains also."

Whoever is chosen, the 2017 tour is building up to be one of the most hotly anticipated Lions bouts of recent years, with three-time British and Irish Lion Matt Dawson claiming that the squad that heads out to New Zealand will be the 'the best and most competitive Lions squad ever'.

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