‘Stuart Hogg is my choice to captain the Lions’ - former skipper Gareth Thomas has his say

Scotland captain Stuart Hogg has received the backing of former Lions skipper Gareth Thomas to captain the touring side against South Africa this summer.

Stuart Hogg in action for the Lions against the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians during the 2017 tour. Picture: Hannah Peters/Getty Images
Stuart Hogg in action for the Lions against the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians during the 2017 tour. Picture: Hannah Peters/Getty Images

While common consensus is that the Lions should be led by a forward, particularly against the ultra-physical Springbok pack, Thomas has a different view.

The former Wales skipper led the Lions in New Zealand in 2005 after Brian O’Driscoll was injured two minutes into the first Test.

And as a former full-back himself, he is not afraid to go against the grain when it comes to naming a back as captain.

Former Lions captain Gareth Thomas has launched Tackle HIV, a campaign which aims to tackle the stigma and misunderstanding around HIV. Picture: James Robinson

“One of the standout players, and someone who isn’t being talked about as captain, because they think going to South Africa means that you need to have someone up front, is Stuart Hogg at 15,” said Thomas, who was speaking as part of the Tackle HIV campaign, which aims to tackle the stigma and misunderstanding around HIV.

“He’s someone who plays extremely well for Scotland and he continues his form week in, week out for Exeter. I’ve seen him playing for them and he doesn’t drop his standards at all. As an ex-full-back, I’d like to see somebody with a good vision of the game. Even though he’s not nailed on to be in the team, he’s one of the favourites out of anybody to be a starting name on the team sheet.

“For me, as a player and as a captain more importantly, being at full-back gives you the ability to see everything that is happening. And it gives you the ability to make decisions that are not confrontational.

“As somebody standing out of the game, seeing everything, Hogg can decide when he feels is the right time to pick it up and when it’s the right time to slow it down.

“Because they are going to South Africa and they feel the South African pack is such a big, confrontational pack that they need a leader who is amongst the action to make decisions. But I think you can have a leader who is out of the action making decisions and they can have a reliable relationship with someone in the pack who is in the action who can relay messages so you have the best of both worlds.”

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While the Lions’ exact itinerary has not yet been published, Thomas does not expect too many surprise inclusions when Warren Gatland names his 36-man squad next Thursday.

With the Lions having reached an agreement with Premiership Rugby, Gatland should have access to all players not in domestic action – the opening game against Japan in Edinburgh clashes with the Premiership Final.

And while some of the romance of the Lions comes from seeing the likes of England great Will Greenwood earn selection in 1997 before even being capped by their countries, Thomas thinks that is unlikely this time around.

He added: “What I’ve seen the from the Six Nations, I don’t think there will be many, if any leftfield decisions. He might chuck them in there, but the standard of play from the four nations and the quality of individuals that they have, and with the type of tour they are having, I don’t think there is a call or a need for a leftfield player.

“It’s a sad thing for the Lions because it’s one of the USPs of the Lions, that they create an international Test player, but I’m not sure this is the year for that to happen.

“Everyone is doing well and there’s so much competition for individual spots and unit spots, nines and tens, back threes, centre pairings. There’s individuals in there that are playing well and pairings that are playing well so it will be a difficult one to choose.”

Tackle HIV, a campaign led by Gareth Thomas in partnership with ViiV Healthcare and the Terrence Higgins Trust, aims to tackle the stigma and misunderstanding around HIV. Visit www.tacklehiv.org and follow @tacklehiv

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