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Nigel Owens explains how Alun Wyn Jones’ special rapport with referees gives him Lions captaincy edge over Owen Farrell – Nigel Owens

Warren Gatland’s new-look Lions coaching team has an exciting feel to it and I applaud the decisions he announced this week.

No disrespect to one or two others who had been hotly tipped for roles, but I do like the freshness of the men Gats has chosen to work with.

Gregor Townsend brings extra creativity with the ideas and methods he has implemented so well with Scotland. Glasgow’s success and style of play under Townsend should not be forgotten, either.

His inclusion will ensure these Lions thrill and will have something of an X-Factor about them when they meet the world champion Springboks.

The three Welsh coaches Gats has chosen aren’t as high profile, but I’m delighted for them as well.

Steve Tandy has worked wonders with Scotland’s defence under Townsend and I’m sure Gregor will have put in a good word. I worked with Steve a lot when I used to training referee sessions for the Ospreys, as well as speaking to him before and after games, of course.

I’ve always rated him as a good guy, a top coach and someone deserving of this highest of honours.

Same applies to Robin McBryde and Neil Jenkins, two stalwarts of the Wales set-up for so many years under Gats. You couldn’t wish to meet a nice guy in rugby than Jenks and who better to coach the kickers than the master from the tee.

I always felt Robin was a cornerstone of Wales’ success with the work he did with the pack and, like Tandy, he too deserves his perhaps unexpected chance. Robin doesn’t seek the limelight, just gets on with his job in the background and for me he did it exceptionally well with Wales.

Gats and Shaun Edwards may have grabbed the headlines, but they, perhaps more than anyone, will know exactly what Robin always brought to the party.

So, the coaching staff assembled, the next big call for Gatland will be deciding upon his captain.

The three men whose names have been linked with the job for the best part of two years are Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje and Alun Wyn Jones. Plus, of course, Ken Owens, but it would be tough for him to get selected in front of his national captain, although Ken is a top class player and leader in his own right.

It’s been presumed the England duo were always a little ahead of Alun Wyn in the pecking order, something that gained further in momentum when Wales struggled during the autumn and he then got injured.

Many were questioning whether Alun Wyn would even make the Lions tour, some citing his age, let alone have any chance of getting into the Test XV.

I suspect a few of those critics are hiding behind a sofa because the Six Nations has changed everything again.

There will be clamours for other captaincy candidates. That’s fair enough, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but you’re going to have to come up with a pretty strong case to argue for someone ahead of Alun Wyn.

I must emphasise I have enormous regard for Farrell and Itoje, who each possess huge strengths of their own.

I’ve refereed Farrell many times for England, always found him to be respectful and a terrific player who leads by example in his own right.

I expect him to be one of the favourites to start against South Africa, despite England’s poor form in the Six Nations. Perhaps Farrell isn’t guaranteed his place in the way he would have been a year ago, but Gatland knows what he can do. And what’s that saying about form being temporary, class permanent?

I guess the same applies to Itoje, but one of my concerns with him being Lions captain just yet is the number of penalties he gives away. It’s not a good look when your captain keeps being pinged, reminds me of the time I refereed Canada against Italy in the World Cup and had to speak to their captain Tyler Ardron, who used to play for the Ospreys and was rightly highly regarded down at the Liberty Stadium.

In this group game the Canadians kept infringing – and unfortunately I’d noticed their skipper was the worst culprit.

I called him over to say: “There are too many penalties, speak to your team please – and speak to yourself first because you’re giving most of them away.”

Itoje is a terrific player and plays on the edge, which is part of his strength, but perhaps this tour is one too soon for the captaincy and he’d be better suited to the role in Australia in 2025.

The more I think of it, the more I feel the cards stack in Alun Wyn’s favour.

Is he guaranteed a place in the team? On the evidence of what we saw in the Six Nations you pick Alun Wyn – and then you build the rest of the side around him. No debate whatsoever about him meriting a starting spot, as far as I’m concerned.

Gatland has tough calls to make, with second row being among the toughest seeing as Itoje, the excellent Irish duo of James Ryan and Iain Henderson and Scotland’s Johnny Gray are also in the mix. I wouldn’t write off Adam Beard either, he was really good in the Six Nations.

But, even without considering his captaincy credentials, for me Alun Wyn is the first pick at lock, with Itoje probably next to him. They would make a formidable duo, as was the case against New Zealand in 2017.

However, you can’t ignore those leadership qualities Alun Wyn also brings to the table.

It’s not just about 150-odd caps, being a former Lions captain and Wales’ talisman, he commands the respect of just about everybody in world rugby and is bang in form judging by what we’ve just seen.

Other look up to him and follow, he’s a good leader inside the dressing room and the opposition also respect him.

Crucially, so do referees as well. Perhaps Alun Wyn was a little vocal in his early days, but he’s learned a lot with experience and knows exactly when to, and how to, approach referees.



Alun Wyn Jones speaks to Romain Poite

I’ve spoken to him a few times over the years about this sort of thing, when he should step in, how to say things, but, more importantly, when he should step back and how not to say things to a referee.

He possesses a stature, calm manner and respectful choice of words that we like.

The best example of captaincy came last time out in New Zealand when Sam Warburton approached Romain Poite right at the end, used a few subtle words and in doing so a match-winning penalty to the home side became a scrum instead.

There is nothing wrong with what Warburton did, he was polite and just asked what he felt were valid and pertinent questions.

Then it was up to Poite whether to stick by his original decision of a penalty, or change it for accidental offside against Ken Owens, amid the concerns Warburton had raised.

Warburton asked the question and, having weighed everything up, rightly or wrongly Poite opted for a scrum instead of sticking with the penalty, which would have given New Zealand victory with a last minute kick.

Gatland won’t have forgotten that. He’ll have regarded it as captaincy at its very best in terms of how to engage with the referee, rather than seeking confrontation, something he has always been big on.

Gats will know Alun Wyn comes from the same school as Warburton, he’s worked closely with him down the years – and that’s why he’ll be veering towards him.

Rightly so too, in my view. This is not Welsh bias speaking, I just feel, everything considered, current form and circumstances taken into account, Alun Wyn Jones is the best man for the job.

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