- Sam Warburton rates Lions captaincy as his highest honour to date
- Unfinished business for Lions skipper in Australia
Sam Warburton has the glittering accolades of back-to-back RBS 6 Nations titles and a Grand Slam on his CV by the age of 24, but the Wales flanker places captaincy of the British and Irish Lions firmly at number one.
Warren Gatland, who elevated Warbuton to the role of Wales skipper two years ago, chose the Cardiff Blues man to lead the Lions party on the ten-game tour to Hong Kong and Australia, describing as a “young man with an old head”.
Far from trotting out regularly recounted clichés about the undoubted honour of the position, Warburton talked through the highs – and lows – of his career and the achievements of the Welsh team when RFUtv snatched a quick word with him at the announcement in London.
He said: “This is definitely number one, and it seems to have built up nicely. The semi-final of the World Cup was massive, the media hype around that and obviously what happened in the game [an 18th-minute red card for a tip-tackle on France’s Vincent Clerc]. Then the Grand Slam the following Six Nations Championship, so as a group of young Welsh players we’ve gone through quite a bit.
“This is another step up again that we’re all looking forward to. As professional rugby players this is what it’s all about, you want to play in the big games and the high-pressure situations.
“And the Lions tour is the place to do that, massive games, big audiences, a lot more pressure, but that’s what you want to achieve in your career.”
Photo: Getty Images
Fifteen of Warburton’s countrymen are on the plane to Australia, the scene of three agonising Test defeats for Wales against the Wallabies last summer.
Rob Howley’s side lost those matches by a combined total of 11 points – including the second Test to a last-gasp, touchline penalty – and while Warburton admits the defeats were hard to take, he believes the Wales contingent will not be caught out again by the southern hemisphere tempo and intensity.
“There’s unfinished business for me in Australia, they’re one of the toughest teams I’ve played against,” he added. “We’ve come unbelievably close so to get a win out there would be amazing. The coaches tried to warn us when we went there last summer that it’s different to go down there compared to when they come up north.
“When you go south the games are faster, more intense and it took us a half to wake up to that when we went there last summer with Wales. The biggest lesson we learnt is that we must be ready for the tempo and the intensity of the game. The seven warm-up games will help us because we went out there and straightaway it was our first match, it was a shock to the system.”