LONDON (Reuters) - England playmaker Owen Farrell is a world class player and among the contenders to captain the British and Irish Lions on this year’s tour of New Zealand, coach Warren Gatland said on Monday.
Farrell, who plays at flyhalf for Saracens and inside centre for England, Wales flanker Sam Warburton and England captain Dylan Hartley were all in the mix to lead the Lions, Gatland told Sky Sports News in an interview.
The New Zealander, who names his squad on April 19, said the captaincy had become something of an “obsession” in the media but said Farrell’s flexibility meant he filled at least one of the criteria for the role - being a likely starter in the tests.
”I know his name has been discussed,“ Gatland said. ”The beauty of him at the moment is that he can cover two positions, 10 and 12.
“He’s a great goal kicker, I think the way he has developed in the last three or four years, he is absolutely world class and I‘m probably not giving too much away by saying he has a good chance of being selected.”
Gatland said Farrell, who came off the bench in the deciding third Lions test in Australia four years ago, had not been at his best against Italy but apart from that performance had excelled in the Six Nations.
“He’s a fighter, he’s a winner and I just really admire the way he has developed as a player,” added Gatland. “He is potentially in the mix to discuss (for the captaincy) as well.”
Warburton, who skippered the Lions on the triumphant 2013 tour Down Under, did not lead Wales in the latest Six Nations but the flanker was among the tournament’s top performers and Gatland said he was under consideration for the Lions role.
“He’s definitely someone in contention but the first thing for us, and there seems to be an obsession with the captaincy, is to pick the squad first and then look at potentially who can captain the Lions,” he said.
”For me, the first thing with a Lions captain is, if you’re picking a Lions starting XV tomorrow, I’d look at it and go, ‘Do I think that person’s likely to start?’
“There would be no guarantees, of course, but that will potentially narrow it down for the captain of the Lions.”
England failed to win consecutive grand slams or set a top tier record for consecutive wins due to Saturday’s defeat by Ireland, but Hartley did lead them to successive Six Nations titles.
“You have to look back beyond the weekend and the disappointment England had, he (Hartley) has done a fantastic job,” the former Wales manager added.
”He’s bounced back from criticism and a bit of controversy with a lot made of the sin bins, suspensions and sendings off, but I admire the way he’s fronted up.
“You have to take your hat off to what he’s achieved as England captain. He needs to be someone we consider also.”
Reporting by Ken Ferris, editing by Nick Mulvenney