Johnson backs Jones to captain Lions
Johnson backs Jones to captain LionsSHARE
Two-time British and Irish Lions captain Martin Johnson has said Wales lock Alun Wyn Jones could skipper the combined side on their tour of Australia later this year despite a lack of leadership experience at Test level.
Johnson, the only man to lead the Lions twice and England's World Cup-winning captain in 2003, sees similarities between himself and the 27-year-old Jones beyond the fact they are both respected second rows.
Jones, capped 70 times by Wales, played in all three Tests of the Lions losing tour of South Africa four years ago and was a member of the Welsh side that thrashed England 30-3 in Cardiff on Saturday to retain their Six Nations title and deny their arch-rivals a Grand Slam.
"He's played a lot of games, he's done it, he has been out there before with the Lions in '09, so I think he's in the frame," Johnson told BBC Sport.
"I hear a lot of good things about him," added Johnson, who resigned as England manager following a poor 2011 World Cup, blighted by off-field woes, in New Zealand.
Johnson said he too did not have much in the way of leadership experience when first appointed to the Lions captaincy for the 1997 tour of South Africa – the last time a team comprising the leading players from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales won a Test series.
"I was in a pretty similar situation in 1997 [to Jones]," Johnson said. "Phil de Glanville was England captain and I'd only captained my club about 15 times.
"The Lions captaincy has this big aura about it and is a great thing to do, to do well. But ultimately I would rather just play, and win a series, than be captain in a losing series.
"[Former Wales captain] Sam Warburton wasn't even in the Welsh team for a while [after being injured early in the Six Nations] but he handled himself pretty well in a tricky situation and came back and played well."
Warburton has long been regarded as a potential captain for a Lions tour which starts with a warm-up match against the Barbarians in Hong Kong on June 1 and then features several fixtures in Australia before the first of three Tests against the Wallabies in Brisbane on June 22.
One of his main rivals for the openside flanker berth, and indeed the Lions captaincy, is England skipper Chris Robshaw.
"Chris has played fantastically well for England, doing a very difficult job," said Johnson. "When I was England manager, we picked him as a six and he went to Argentina in 2009.
"But I remember saying to his club coaches at the time, 'if Chris is going to play Test rugby it is probably going to have to be at seven', because England were playing sixes like Tom Croft, and then Tom Wood.
"Chris brought different skills – he is a real hard worker, a real grafter, and his skills go more into playing seven. I think he has done a fantastic job."
Meanwhile Johnson stressed all Kiwi coach Warren Gatland, seconded from his role as Wales boss to guide the Lions in Australia, had to worry about when selecting a squad due to be named late next month was to pick his strongest party rather than worry about a balance of nationalities.
"When I played with the Lions, I wanted to play with the best players, I don't care where they are from."
Johnson added the team needed to be mentally tough enough to withstand off-field pressures if they were to emulate their 1989 predecessors and win a series with the Wallabies.
"The Aussies are good, they're smart rugby players, they'll do everything they can psychologically through the media, it's already started. On the pitch too," added Johnson.
"That's what makes them difficult – you've got to be together, especially now there's no privacy, everyone wants to know your reaction to everything."