Alun Wyn Jones is the Lions’ tour captain, but Gatland says Farrell’s leadership was a major reason he was picked for the tour despite some iffy Six Nations form. Farrell has a mixed record as England captain, and led Saracens to the Championship title on Sunday.
At the Lions’ orientation day in London recently, Gatland asked his players to vote for a “leadership group” for the tour. While he would not reveal who else was voted on, Gatland said Farrell lead the vote.
“I’ve spoken to Owen and the chat was that it wasn’t the greatest Six Nations (from him) but we picked him on the leadership he has and experience he can bring,” he said. “He’s a competitor, and what he’s achieved in the game, the success he has had speaks for itself.
“At the administration day I asked the players all to vote and pick four for the leadership group. We’ve done that. It was interesting that he ended up with the most votes out of anyone in the leadership group.
“It speaks volumes for the respect in which he’s held by the other players in the group – not just the England players, but the others too. I think knowing him as a competitor he’ll go out and make the most of his opportunities, and I expect him to have a great tour.”
Farrell was named on the bench for this Saturday’s fixture against Japan at Murrayfield, despite only arriving for the Jersey training camp yesterday because of his Saracens commitment. Dan Biggar has been the only fly-half in Jersey, and Gatland decided to give Finn Russell a little longer to rest an injury.
Of the Saracens contingent, Jamie George is the only other rushed into action due to Ken Owens being the only hooker in the squad. Luke Cowan-Dickie will play for Exeter in the Premiership final on Saturday. The other Sarries – Elliot Daly, Maro Itoje and Mako Vunipola – will sit out for now.
“We’ve only got two hookers, so we’re a bit limited with Jamie coming on the bench,” said Gatland. “We’d spoken about potentially having Finn Russell benog on the bench but Owen can cover us at 12 and Anthony Watson on the bench covering the back three.
“We wanted to give Finn a bit more time, he had a little bit of ankle, a slight strain last week with Racing. We thought we’d give him a little bit more time to get his ankle right, even though he is training fully.
“The Saracens boys trained this morning, and their enthusiasm was great. Elliot Daly looked excellent, Maro was his usual vocal self and really brought a lot to training as well. Owen looked sharp too.
From what I saw from them, they fitted in extremely well. The thing with them is they’ve got the experience. They’re all Lions players from the last tour so it was pretty seamless. All I can say is that we’re very happy with how they trained this morning, and this afternoon we’ll see how they go as well. The proof will be when they play.
“A lot was made of the Six Nations and them looking under-done, it’s probably a fair enough criticism of them. We’ve got time together within a number of weeks if anyone is little short we feel we can get them up to speed.
“They were up at 7 o’clock this morning doing altitude training, so have had a pretty full day already. Hopefully we have a good session this afternoon.”