In #Lions years, the end of the 6 Nations is a bit like the passing of Hallowe'en. Just like the shops tearing down the scary stuff from their window displays and hurriedly replacing it all with Christmas decorations, rugby fans are currently finishing off their tournament reviews and turning their attention towards the upcoming squad announcement.

When Warren Gatland names the travelling party to take on New Zealand this summer, there will undoubtedly be questions asked over his choice of captain. For the tussle to lead the Lions is set to be more hotly contested than it has been in quite some time, the range of options a far cry from the three-horse-race in which Sam Warburton pipped Brian O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell to the line four years ago.

Advertisements
Advertisements

The candidates

On paper, some might see Dylan Hartley as a dead cert after captaining England to their second Championship in a row. However, there are several snags. One is his disciplinary record, which caused him to miss out on the 2013 tour and has also seen him spend a lengthy spell absent from the Northampton Saints this season. It would hardly be ideal to name a tour captain who might not make it through the entire tour without picking up a ban along the way.

In terms of maturity and leadership, Rory Best could seem a more fitting choice, especially considering his experience of beating the All Blacks with Ireland last November. But here's the thing: Best and Hartley are both hookers, and it's hard to see there being enough between them that one can be guaranteed to start ahead of the other.

Advertisements

In fact, it's even possible that neither will don the no. 2 shirt, such has been the form of Ken Owens.

The same obstacle confronts Scotland's two contenders. Even if Grieg Laidlaw recovers on time from his ankle injury, he has little chance of ousting Conor Murray at scrum-half, while John Barclay is far from certain to emerge victorious in the extremely competitive battle for back row slots.

And in Wales…

Which brings us to the Welsh candidates: Warburton, the man chosen last time out, and Alun Wyn-Jones, who has replaced the former as national captain due to the flanker's long string of injury woes. Warburton's fine form in this year's 6 Nations has put him back into contention, but his potential to need more time in the treatment room can't be ignored. And like the aforementioned possibilities, he can't be assured of a starting berth due to the threat posed by Maro Itoje, CJ Stander, Sean O'Brien and several others.

Wyn-Jones, on the other hand, sits alongside Murray and Stuart Hogg as one of the few almost-guaranteed Test Lions.

Advertisements

His imperious lineout form and immense work at the breakdown shone throughout his side's tournament, even if they did end up in 5th spot. Furthermore, he ably stepped into the breach in Sydney in 2013, assuming the role of captain for the Third Test in his compatriot's absence. Gatland was slated pre-match for this choice, particularly from O'Driscoll-revering Irish fans, but it paid dividends.

Whoever is given the nod on April 19th, it will be seen as controversial, and the rugby media will have plenty of dissenting voices amongst its ranks. There's no easy choice this time around, and no getting away from the fact that some won't be happy about it. But fitting four on-form nations into one team should involve such headaches, and if the Lions are to claim their first series win in New Zealand since 1971 they're going to need a strong leader. And Alun Wyn-Jones is exactly that. #Rugby Union