Ex-Wales & Lions captain Thomas backs Hartley for 2017 tour

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Gareth Thomas: Lions need mental strength in New Zealand

Former Wales captain Gareth Thomas says England skipper Dylan Hartley should lead the 2017 British and Irish Lions to New Zealand.

Wales flanker Sam Warburton led the 2013 tour to Australia with compatriot Alun Wyn Jones taking over for the third Test when Warburton was injured.

Thomas says hooker Hartley's experience of helping to beat southern hemisphere teams gives him the edge.

"I'd go more at this time for Dylan Hartley," said Thomas.

Gareth Thomas and Sir Clive Woodward
Gareth Thomas and Sir Clive Woodward face the media during the 2005 Lions tour

"We talk about the mental edge and the physical edge.

"I think what Dylan Hartley has is kind of an experience of beating the Tri-Nation teams, being part of an England team that's just gone to Australia and defeated them.

"We talk about (tour coach Warren) Gatland and his knowledge because he's a New Zealander, but also you want knowledge from people who know how to beat these teams.

"I think Dylan Hartley will bring that."

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Gatland has already said Hartley has the right leadership credentials.

A poor disciplinary record has chequered Hartley's career, but he has impressed since being named England captain in January, 2016.

Hartley was selected for the 2013 tour, but was subsequently suspended for verbally abusing referee Wayne Barnes in the Premiership final.

Hartley captained England to the Grand Slam in the Six Nations and a 3-0 series whitewash of Australia.

The 2017 Lions face a gruelling 10-match series, beginning only one week after domestic finals on 3 June, featuring three Tests against the All Blacks and five matches against Super Rugby teams and a clash with the Maori.

Alun Wyn Jones and Sam Warburton celebrate 2013 Lions success
Alun Wyn Jones and Sam Warburton taste 2013 Lions success against Australia

Thomas took over as leader of the last Lions to tour New Zealand, in 2005, when Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll was injured in the opening minutes of the first of three heavy Test defeats.

Thomas, the first Welshman to win 100 caps, says the 2005 schedule meant the tourists being split into Test and midweek teams early on - a choice that faces Gatland next summer.

"It's an unbelievably difficult schedule and it's almost 15-love to New Zealand because they've set this up," said Thomas.

"There is a kind of strange atmosphere when you split camp and split teams and I'm sure that's something Gatland doesn't want to do, but it's also something New Zealand will want him to do."

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