sport

Gatland wants specialist seven

Warren Gatland believes the Lions will need to employ the services of a specialist openside flanker to triumph in Australia next summer.

The Wallabies are blessed with a trio of tremendously gifted number sevens in the form of David Pocock, Michael Hooper and Liam Gill, and the battle of the breakdown will go a long way to deciding the destiny of the Test series.

Gatland said: "You need genuine sevens going to Australia. You need sevens who are competing hard on the ball and being effective. It's not just about Pocock - there is Hooper and Gill as well. They are three quality sevens."

Gatland's statement would suggest Wales captain Sam Warburton, who is set to go up against Pocock when the Six Nations champions face Australia on Saturday, may have an edge on converted blindsides such as England captain Chris Robshaw and Sean O'Brien when it comes to selection.

Robshaw has had a difficult time after coming under scrutiny for his decision-making during England's defeats to Australia and South Africa.

Gatland praised the Harlequins' back-rower's leadership, but admitted he is not an out-and-out breakaway in the form of Warburton or Pocock.

He said: "I feel sometimes England have struggled for a genuine seven and Chris has been doing that role.

"People speak very strongly of his leadership qualities and he has come out of Harlequins who have done so well domestically.

"The hard thing is the way the game is played and refereed in the English Premiership, it is dominantly refereed towards the attacking side which often makes it difficult for genuine sevens to get into the game so you can go in there with six-and-a-halves or sixes (in the number seven shirt)."

Warburton is considered among the contenders for the captaincy for the tour Down Under. But Gatland has made it clear he would have no hesitation in dropping his skipper for the Tests if the player in question was not on form.

Such is the magnitude of leading the Lions it has been rare for a captain to miss out on Test selection for any reason other than injury, as was the case with Brian O'Driscoll in New Zealand in 2005.

Scotland lock Mike Campbell-Lamerton famously dropped himself while leading the 1966 tour of New Zealand, but Ireland hooker Ciaran Fitzgerald captained the 1983 tour, also to New Zealand, and made the side for all four Tests despite his poor form.

He said: "Whoever is appointed captain we would have spoken about it before with the squad and reiterated it's all about performing.

"If that means picking the best team and leaving the captain out because someone else is playing better, then I am more than comfortable and prepared to do that.

"It is a professional game and we have to protect the Lions in the best possible way we can by picking the best possible players."