Are four British and Irish Lions captains the answer to summer success?
YES v NO
The British and Irish Lions are back in New Zealand this summer, aiming to avoid another 3-0 Test series defeat they last received from the All Blacks in 2005. To not repeat such embarrassment, Eddie Jones has suggested to spread the captaincy between four of the touring players – one from each nation.
“I know what I would do. I would take the captains of the four nations, pool them together and make that the leadership group” — Eddie Jones
Jones suggests that after the first five games – which include tough fixtures against the Blues, Highlanders and Crusaders – Warren Gatland could then identify who is the most suitable leader and ‘in-form’ player to take the side into the remaining fixtures, and most importantly, the three test matches.
Four of the candidates currently staking a claim are all the captains from the respective nations: Dylan Hartley, Rory Best, Greig Laidlaw and Alun Wyn Jones.
In such a wide group of players, voices – particularly younger members of the group – could be drowned out. With there being four ‘go-to’ points of contact, the leadership group could ensure all forms of feedback and general touring matters are voiced to a maximum.
Spreading the responsibility across four shoulders could also release a degree of pressure on the sole talisman, as well as not allowing the media to use the sole individual as a scapegoat. Sam Warburton only recently revealed how losing the Welsh captaincy has given a greater degree of freedom; a factor greatly benefiting the flanker’s game, and something he expected to happen:
“It makes me have to work even harder than before to get in the team. Not having the captaincy now will allow me to do that even more.” — Sam Warburton
Sharing the role would also create greater efficiency amongst the XV’s subgroups. Where set pieces, and moves are required to be carried out with such coordination, having different individuals to lead the execution of the specific moments could enable line-outs, back moves etc to be executed in a more clinical manner.
Having four captains could create a selection headache for Warren Gatland. Having the armband should not guarantee a place in the starting XV, or a place on the tour for that matter, and so the inclusion of such individuals could see the sacrifice of more suitable and in-form players.
With so many captains, it is unlikely that they will be all on the pitch at the same time. This could therefore diminish the impact one or two of them carry, meaning their role is less redundant; it’s hard to have such an impact on the players if you’re only voicing your opinions in the dressing room and not the field.
In addition to this, two captains of the leadership group on the field could have a difference of opinion during important decisions, such as kicking for three points; this crossover of ideas could create unnecessary tension during the 80 minutes.
In a tour which carries such intensity, and potential division in camp due to the four separate nations, having four figureheads from each nation could only amplify this intensity and division. There could be the potential for negative communication such as a young Irishman more likely to raise concerns with Rory Best over Dylan Hartley, thus exacerbating power struggles, and division in camp.