Robinson: Irishman to lead Lions

Jason Robinson believes Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell are the front-runners for the British & Irish Lions captaincy.

The former England and Lions winger said the pair’s experience, both in a leadership position and with the Lions, makes them perfect candidates to lead the side on their tour of South Africa which kicks off in May.

O’Driscoll has begun to show the form that once made him one of the most devastating runners in world rugby. The 30-year-old centre skippered the Lions on their 2005 tour of New Zealand and knows exactly what is expected when the Lions face the World Champions later this year.

“Brian is a fantastic player and a brilliant leader,” Robinson told keo.co.za. “He’s in fine form at the moment and of course he’s the captain of Ireland – who seem to be getting back to their best.

“At the same time, Ireland have someone in Paul O’Connell who is more then capable of doing the job. He is just such an inspirational figure for both his country and for Munster who are the defending European Club champions.

“Ryan Jones is the other contender for the captaincy. He’s has done a wonderful job with Wales and has gone from strength to strength as captain. It would be a special moment for any of them to lead the side in South Africa, but my money is on it being an Irish captain.”

Robinson, who an ambassador for HSBC, the Principal Partner and shirt sponsor of the British & Irish Lions,  believes the biggest difference between this years’ and previous Lions tours will be the make-up of the squad.

“In the past English players have formed the bulk of the Lions side, but given their current form and the rebuilding phase they currently find themselves in, it seems clear that Welsh and Irish players should make up the majority of the touring party.”

While the Springboks are set to face Namibia and a New Zealand Maori side in two warm-up games, the Lions have six games against various provincial outfits before the first clash against the Boks in Durban.

Despite the Lions’ more grueling warm-up schedule, Robinson believes South Africa will by no means be undercooked.

“I don’t think that the Lions’ preparations will make much of a difference, simply because of the fact that the South Africans know each other so well. The Lions players will need those extra warm-up games to form bonds and acquire an understanding of each player’s style.

“Bringing all four unions together will be the biggest challenge for Ian McGeechan and that is where the warm-up games will play a big role.”

Robinson, who watched the Springboks in action at the end of last year, believes whoever is picked for the tour will face a battle of monumental proportions.

“I do like the balance of the South African team,” he said. “I know from the times that I was lucky enough to play against the Springboks it was always a real challenge both mentally and physically.

“With the likes of Schalk Burger and Bakkies Botha, they have some tough guys in that Springbok side so all the games will certainly be very physical. I’m also well aware of the threat they pose out wide and having spoken to Bryan Habana at the end of last year, I know just how much they are all looking forward to this tour.”

By Andrew Worling