Warren Gatland: British & Irish Lions captain could be left field

Warren Gatland will pick the Lions squad before choosing a captain. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland has hinted that the tour captain could come from "left field".

With Welsh duo Sam Warburton and Alun Wyn Jones having captained the Lions in their 2013 tour of Australia, both are expected to be in the running to skipper the side again, as are England captain Dylan Hartley and Irish captain Rory Best.

But when asked whether this year's Lions captain would come from those who lead their respective countries, Gatland suggested that wouldn't necessarily be the case.

He told Sky Sports. "Ideally, [the captain will have] some captaincy experience. If you're looking at the squad, you're picking the Test team after the squad is selected and you're looking at the captain and asking if that person would be likely to be selected in a Test XV?

"That could be a swaying factor, but there are no guarantees at the moment. It could be someone from left field.

"We'll definitely look at some individuals who are out there, but we'll look at picking the squad at the moment then picking the captain afterwards."

Gatland's approach could open the door to the likes of Jamie Heaslip, who has captained Ireland and Leinster, Peter O'Mahony (Ireland/Munster), England's Tom Wood (England/Northampton Saints) and Owen Farrell, who could be in line to captain England against Italy in next week's Six Nations game.

Gatland added: "Everyone's obsessed about the captaincy, aren't they? Look, I've said all along there's some quality people in contention.

"The first thing for us is to pick the squad then look at it and ask who could captain the side in New Zealand.

"It would be a great honour for that person who does captain the team, but the message to that person is, 'Fantastic, well done, but you've got to earn your place in that Test side'.

"If someone else is playing better than you in New Zealand, they'll be selected ahead of you."