Owen Farrell won't be picked to captain the Lions over fears the squad will get unnecessary flak
OWEN FARRELL hasn't been picked to captain the Lions over fears it could expose the squad to unnecessary flak.
The England skipper's leadership style came under-fire during his country's worst ever Six Nations campaign this year.
Fly-half Farrell struggled for form and ex players queued-up to demand he was stripped of the armband.
So on this Lions tour in South Africa, boss Warren Gatland made the call to remove Farrell from the spotlight and let his rugby do the talking.
And he did the same with his England and Saracens teammate Maro Itoje – a guy who Gatland himself bigged-up as a possible tour leader.
Six guys – tour skipper Alun Wyn Jones, his shock replacement Conor Murray, Ken Owens, Iain Henderson, Jamie George and Stuart Hogg – have all skippered the Lions in 2021.
Lifting the lid for the very first time on why Farrell and Itoje were behind the others in the pecking order, Gats said: "It was almost a little bit like not wanting to put those other two players under external pressure that may have come their way, as much as anything.
“They're very vocal, and are very much part of our leadership group. So they've got important roles.
"I know there was a lot of stuff said – and it doesn't bother Owen at all because he's such a competitor.
"He can handle that sort of stuff – and the criticism that came to him about the way he led the side, the way he played and England in the Six Nations – he is able to put that stuff behind him.
"But I kind of felt, as a group, I didn't want him to be exposed to it at the moment.
“This is a great group of guys and even though it doesn't bother him.
"And I didn't want other players to see some potential negativity that we didn't need as a group."
Gatland revealed that Farrell was most-voted-for Lion when he asked the squad to pick who they think should be on leadership committees.
So it was still a huge shock when Farrell wasn't given the chance to take over from injured second-row Jones.
Instead, Gatland went for Ireland and Munster scrum-half Murray – who had hardly led his country or province.
Murray will lead the Lions for the first time on Wednesday night in Cape Town in the unofficial Fourth Test against South Africa A.
Gatland said: “We spoke about a number of potential people.
"You feel that if Conor plays well enough then he's got a good chance of being involved in the Tests. So that's kind of our thinking.
"And then there's a very strong leadership group and we spoke to them about the responsibility of supporting Conor as much as possible.
"Conor is incredibly well liked as a person and gets on well with everyone in the squad.
"And he's a different personality to say someone like Alun Wyn or Owen Farrell or Stuart Hogg – and we're going to need other people on this tour to step up and be captain as well.
"So there will be other players who will be selected to do that role and other other matches, too.
"So there was a lot of discussion and debate about that, but it kind of comes down to picking someone with experience who has been there."
Gatland also revealed that Murray's appointment was a surprise to the players too.
But ever since he was named the rest of the squad have thrown their full support behind him.
Gatland added: "In the group there was a positive vibe, but I think it probably took people by surprise.
"Conor wasn't a front runner, but I felt it was a really good choice having worked with him on the last couple of tours and just knowing what he was like as a person.
"The way he goes around things and conversations and he is genuinely interested in what people are doing and their families.
"He is not the most vocal person, but Sam Warburton wasn't.
"It's about the respect that others have for you as a player and person – that to me is as much about leadership as anything else.
"There are different forms of leadership and style.
"I think Conor will do a great job, but it is a different scenario as there is a lot more responsibility on that leadership to support him and take the pressure off him.
"So they need to step up, be vocal and drive the standards – and we have had meetings to speak about it.
"It is a different type of situation – Alun Wyn with his esteem he was held in – he probably spoke a bit more, and that changes a bit now, but not in a bad way.
"Just a different way."
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