Rugby-Coach Gatland says Lions captain Jones must earn starting berth


FILE PHOTO: Rugby Union - Six Nations Championship Official Launch - Hurlingham Club, London, Britain - January 23, 2019 Wales coach Warren Gatland and Alun Wyn Jones pose at the launch Action Images via Reuters/Matthew Childs

(Reuters) - Coach Warren Gatland has warned British & Irish Lions captain Alun Wyn Jones he will have to prove his form if he is to be selected for the tests against world champions South Africa, and that the armband is no guarantee of a starting berth.

Lock Jones was unveiled as skipper for the July 3-Aug. 7 tour that is scheduled to include three matches against the Springboks, and takes over from compatriot Sam Warburton, who led the side under Gatland in 2013 and 2017.

"The conversation (with Jones) was, and this was the same with Sam Warburton on a couple of occasions, that your form has to be good enough to be selected in the test side. It is a great honour to be tour captain, but you have to play well," Gatland said at the squad announcement on Thursday.

Jones initially missed Gatland’s telephone call on Sunday and the coach admits it was an anxious few hours wait to hear from the Wales skipper, who is the most capped player in international rugby with 157 appearances.

"I did panic for a few hours before he rang me back! But it was a great conversation, a little bit of apprehension I think, realising the responsibility and privilege to be able to do that (captain the side). He has done a great job in the last few years for Wales."

Warburton had previously said he felt Jones might struggle to make the starting team and suggested England’s Maro Itoje was the best pick for captain.

Gatland, who said squad selection was "subjective", made a number of surprise omissions, including Ireland flyhalf Johnny Sexton, and England prop Kyle Sinckler, centre Manu Tuilagi and number eight Billy Vunipola.

Instead, Sam Simmonds, who has not played a test for England since 2018, was named in the squad in place of Vunipola.

"There were a lot of factors to take into consideration, you are looking at form from the Six Nations, players who have performed for you in the past.

"Players who have won trophies and championships at club level, and then some younger players that you feel you can develop on the tour.

"You want a squad that is going to be competitive, but also play some good rugby and look to improve as the tour goes on."

(Reporting by Nick Said; Editing by Toby Davis)

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