Grateful Owens ready to put 'marker down'

AUCKLAND, New Zealand — Ken Owens has been through the full range of emotions over the last month.

Four weeks ago he feared his dreams of playing for the British & Irish Lions lay in tatters after picking up an ankle injury in Scarlets training. On Monday, he sat facing the press having been confirmed as captain for Wednesday’s match against the Blues. Sport can be a strange beast.

The injury meant Owens would sit out the Scarlets’ charge to the PRO12 title, and was severe enough to warrant rumour that Dylan Hartley was to be offered a Lions reprieve after being left out of the original squad.

But he quietly went through his recovery and seemed pleasantly stunned to be sat as the Lions’ matchday captain when he faced the press on Monday.

“It was a massive worry,” Owens said. “I had a nervous 72 hours icing my foot and getting it rested up to get into a position to prove to the coaches and physio staff that I could get on the tour.

“The work the physios have done has been incredible. I’m just thankful to be on the tour now and I’m looking forward to putting a marker down.”

Owens was informed by Warren Gatland that he would captain the team on Sunday evening. He was taken aback, but snapped Gatland’s hand off to take on the honour.

He will be relieved to be finally back on the field when he leads the team out at Eden Park on Wednesday evening, but he has already played a key role in ensuring the Lions have been pitch-perfect off the field.

On Sunday, he delivered a speech in Welsh at the Lions’ welcome in Waitangi. He has also been the man nominated to lead the Welsh hymn, Calan Lan, as part of their four-song arsenal for this tour.

But now that he can do his talking, or singing, on the field he will be a quiet leader.

“As a player I always try to put my best foot forward,” Owens said. “Try to show the way by the way I play.

“There’s a lot of experience in the side. There won’t be too much need for shouting and big inspiring speeches. We’ve got a lot of experience in that room. It’s just about showing direction. Hopefully the boys will follow me.”

Owens will be charged with inspiring his team to put down a marker against the Blues after the Lions’ underwhelming start against the NZ Provincial Barbarians on Saturday.

“We’re going to have to create the momentum game on game and improve going into the Test matches. So, it’s 15 new guys starting and an opportunity to put our hands up to raise the standards week on week and game on game,” Owens said. “Because that’s what we’re going to need to do to beat the All Blacks in three or so weeks’ time.”