Former British and Irish Lions head coach Ian McGeechan believes Dylan Hartley remains a contender to be captain for this summer’s tour to New Zealand.
The England hooker thrived as captain in 2016 as Eddie Jones’ men won a RBS 6 Nations Grand Slam, three Tests in Australia and completed an unbeaten calendar year last autumn.
But Hartley’s England place has been under scrutiny since his fitness dropped off following a high tackle on Sean O’Brien which incurred a six-week suspension while playing for Northampton.
New Zealand-born Hartley is still in the mix to be Lions skipper under head coach Warren Gatland, along with Ireland’s Rory Best, a positional rival.
McGeechan said: “It’s open. He’s an international captain at the moment. He’s done a very good job for England, as Rory Best has done for Ireland.
“Alun Wyn Jones has come on and I think at the moment is the best international captain, in the impact he’s had on his team.
“Potential captains are the international captains at the moment. Sam Warburton’s still in the frame, having been a Lions captain.
“You need a player playing well enough to be a Test match player and leading from the front.
“There will be questions, looking at some of the positions.”
Warburton relinquished the Wales captaincy prior to the Six Nations, with Jones succeeding him, but having skippered the tourists under Gatland in 2013, he could be chosen again.
Scotland skipper Greig Laidlaw, a scrum-half, is out injured and could be out of the Lions reckoning.
“The captaincy is, I think, quite a personal decision for the head coach,” McGeechan added.
“You have to have somebody you trust and respect and that you share ideas with, but maybe not always agree with.
“Make sure you’ve got a good and honest sounding board coming back to you as coach.”
England are seeking a 17th successive Test win this Sunday at Twickenham against Italy.
But Jones’ men are yet to play the All Blacks.
New Zealand had won 18 in a row until Ireland beat them in Chicago last November.
“Ireland have proved that they can be beaten,” McGeechan added.
“All in all, it will be that Lions group knowing and understanding the level they’ve got to play as individuals, irrespective of whether they’ve played New Zealand or not.”
McGeechan twice toured as a player with the Lions and was coach in 1989, 1993 and 1997.
He is intrigued by the selection debates in pubs and rugby clubs, but declined to add to them.
The Scot is keen to see more of England and Wasps back Elliot Daly and feels Ireland prop Tadgh Furlong is in the selection mix.
On Daly, he said: “The more a player comes into view, the more you look at him, his attributes and who you think would be good around those players.
“Tadgh Furlong, the Irish prop, has shown very quickly his potential, what he can do.
“There will be some players who have only come on the scene this year who will be very strong prospects for the Lions.
“You have to pick form players, not on reputation, because you don’t have time to find your form on a seven-week Lions tour.”
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