David Flatman: Lions need a captain who can roar at 40 alpha males

From the Front Row: Martin Johnson took me into town to buy Hawaiian shirts for the celebration

Despite varying levels of apparent influence the position of team captain seems to be viewed as vital across all sports. The skipper is charged with performing at a consistently high level and also making key decisions throughout a game.

But while every now and then in football an individual appears to stand out as a leader of men – often shouting swearwords more loudly than anybody else – most matches are controlled by a pacing, chewing, visibly ageing manager. Not all of them, though. Put aside his reputed character flaws and consider John Terry; in his pomp he played with world-class accuracy, real sporting intelligence and, perhaps most importantly, a commitment so strong that he looked willing to die for his team. He was magnificent.

Turn on the cricket and you'll see what captaining really means. There are a million variables to consider in a game of cricket, and a lot of time to consider them. But watching Andrew Strauss was, for a novice like me, awe-inspiring. His knowledge of the game and the manner in which he communicated his directions always seemed, from my sofa at least, hugely sophisticated.

Warren Gatland seems to attach somewhat less gravitas to the role. He has declared that his Lions captain may not be a nailed-on starter, and that there will be enough leaders to do the job regardless. This may be true, but I'm inclined to disagree.

Certainly the captain will rely on other senior figures to assist him. These lieutenants will come in all shapes and sizes and will perform different roles, from the enforcement of training-ground discipline to social activities (these invariably involve paintballing or beer). But for me, there has to be a top man.

I look back at the great tours – New Zealand in '71, South Africa in '74 and '97 – and I think of two things: Willie John McBride and Martin Johnson. They weren't dictators, and they weren't necessarily the men that broke the tackle that made the difference, but they were the governors, and everybody looked up to them, star players included. These blokes define the often over-bandied term "talisman".

I was lucky enough to play with some incredible captains, and they showed why I believe it is such a vital decision. Johnson was monstrous, empathetic, subtle, intelligent and harder than nails. One Tuesday morning in Johannesburg he hit me so hard that I thought my jaw was broken. That afternoon, knowing I was young and nervous, he took me into town to buy some Hawaiian shirts for the planned post-match celebration.

Steve Borthwick was a different animal – still is, actually – but he remains one of the finest captains I have come across. Not a big fan of pubs and nightclubs, he consciously separated himself from the squad in social terms, but was never disapproving, so long as his players behaved. He trained harder than everyone else and his pure psychological influence over our team and our environment was astounding.

Watching Saracens now I think he is still improving. He was up for a laugh, accommodating to those not at his extreme level of intensity and, above all, there to win. His presence was phenomenal, and it seems to be growing.

The best I experienced was Jonathan Humphreys. He could have convinced me to run through a wall. The best rugby I ever played was with Humphs, and this was only partly because he was an exceptional hooker. He had a way with his players that worked for every single one. I recall a match at Kingsholm where he disappeared for a minute before smashing the changing-room door open and storming back in. "That mob in there are talking it up, boys," he shouted. "They reckon they're gonna take this scrum apart today. Well not on my fucking watch. Flats, they're coming for you, son." It was ridiculous of us to believe that he had actually been eavesdropping, but by then we were close to frenzy. Humphs was still snarling in the 80th minute as victory was confirmed.

The Lions need a proper captain, someone who can silence some 40 alpha males with a single word. Some think Brian O'Driscoll is past it, but he is still stunningly talented with all the guts of a dog of war. I may not be a Lion but if he spoke, I'd listen.

News
The current recommendation from Britain's Chief Medical Officer, is that people refrain from drinking on at least two days a week
food + drinkTheory is that hangovers are caused by methanol poisoning
Life and Style
techConcept would see planes coated in layer of micro-sensors and able to sense wear and tear
News
scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
newsRyan Crighton goes in search of the capo dei capi
Extras
indybest

Arts and Entertainment
Actors front row from left, Jared Leto, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Ellen DeGeneres, Bradley Cooper, Peter Nyongío Jr., and, second row, from left, Channing Tatum, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyongío and Angelina Jolie as they pose for a
film
Sport
sport
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Life and Style
news

As Voltaire once said, “Ice cream is exquisite. What a pity it isn’t illegal”

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition