British & Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland has revealed England captain Owen Farrell received a vast majority of the players’ vote as the team decided on its leadership group.
As the tourists up their preparations ahead of this weekend’s clash with Japan at Murrayfield, Farrell has been drafted straight into the matchday-23 named by Gatland following Saracens’ promotion back to the Premiership.
And while there are no English players involved in a Lions starting XV for the first time since 1950, Farrell has been confirmed as one figure in the leadership group who will play a key role behind captain Alun Wyn Jones.
“I’ve spoken to Owen and the chat was about it not being the greatest Six Nations, but we picked him on the leadership and experience that he can bring to the group,” Gatland said.
“He’s a fantastic competitor and what he has achieved and his success speaks for itself.
“We did an administration day and I asked the players to pick a leadership group, which we have done.
“I thought it was interesting that he ended up with the most votes out of anyone in the leadership group, so that speaks volumes for the respect in which he is held by all the players in the group, not just the England players.
“Knowing him as a competitor he will go out and make the most of his opportunities and I expect him to have a great tour.”
Farrell, set to embark on his third tour with the Lions, is among four England players included on the bench for the match against Japan.
To be broadcast live on Channel 4, Farrell’s Saracens teammate Jamie George, Courtney Lawes and Anthony Watson have also been selected as replacements.
After their Championship play-off final success over Ealing Trailfinders, all five of Saracens joined up with the Lions on Monday and have already began altitude training in preparation for South African conditions.
“The Saracens boys trained this morning and their enthusiasm was great,” said Gatland.
“They fitted in extremely well. The thing with them is they have got the experience.
“They are all Lions players from the last tour, so it was pretty seamless in terms of them fitting back in and also knowing familiar faces from players that toured in 2017.
“We were very happy with the way they trained.
“A lot was made of the Six Nations that they looked a little bit underdone. That’s probably a fair enough criticism of some of those players.
“But we’ve got some time together with them and, if anyone is a little bit short, we feel like we can get them up to speed.
“They were up at 7am doing some altitude training so they have had a pretty full day already.”