Warren Gatland has namechecked 17 players who could potentially skipper the British and Irish Lions to South Africa next year.
Speaking to the media on Wednesday Gatland rattled off the list of players when he was questioned about the credentials of England lock Maro Itoje with the likes of Itoje, Alun Wyn Jones and Owen Farrell linked with the role regularly.
to step forward and lead the Lions, Gatland kicked for touch and left no one listening to him any wiser as to who might succeed Warburton as captain after the drawn 2017 Test series in New Zealand.
“To be honest, that decision is made incredibly late in terms of picking a captain,” Gatland explained.
“You look at lots of factors. You look at the strength in depth in certain positions, you want the captain, if their form is good enough – there is never any guarantee, to be one of the players in your Test team.
“For some positions, there is so much strength in depth that there is going to be a real battle for Test spots, but you have that honest conversation with the captain to say that you have been selected as captain for the tour but there is no guarantee you’re going to be selected in the Test side.
He continued to say "I don't know if I could rattle of the names of potential captains," before doing just that.
“Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Ken Owens, Alun Wyn Jones, Maro Itoje, James Ryan, Justin Tipuric, Conor Murray, Johnny Sexton, Owen Farrell, George Ford, Jonathan Davies, Stuart Hogg, Stuart McInally, Fraser Brown – I don’t know.
“I haven’t even thought of those things. That selection will be made very late in the piece after we have picked the squad and then we decide as a collective group of coaches who we think is the best person to do the job on tour.
“He [Itoje] is maturing as a player. When he first burst onto the scene he was into everything and he was probably overplaying and using up energy that he didn’t need to be, hitting rucks that were lost causes and those sort of things.
“Look, he has matured as a player. He is obviously an outstanding player but that is one of the positions you’re talking about – like I said you have got Alun Wyn Jones, James Ryan, Jonny Gray, there’s huge amount of strength and depth in that position. Joe Launchbury, he’s another one that could potentially captain the side as well, he’s doing that for Wasps. Joe Simmonds is another one, what he has done with Exeter.