British & Irish Lions 2013

Why Warburton cracked the nod

Tue, 30 Apr 2013 11:33
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he's an absolute professional
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British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland - who selected Sam Warburton as captain - has always backed the 24-year old throughout his time with Wales.

Although Warburton has not played his best rugby this season he did manage to regain some form for Wales late in their Six Nations campaign this year.

Gatland said: "In the last two or three years he's been the most successful captain in the northern hemisphere.

"I have a huge amount of respect for Sam [Warburton], he's an absolute professional and he leads from the front."

He said leaving the likes of Robshaw and Wilkinson out had been tough but said injuries could yet lead to late call-ups for those omitted from the original squad.

"Some real quality players have missed out. We had a thorough process and it's been tough.

"If you look at previous tours six to eight players get injured and there will be a group of back-up players who can be called upon."

Sam Warburton knew about his selection as captain and battled to keep it a secret for such a long time.

"Warren gave me a call, it's been nine or ten days since I found out and the biggest secret I've had to keep," Warburton told a news conference in London.

"It's unbelievable, an accolade very few people achieve and it's an unbelievable honour."

Warburton led Wales to the 2011 World Cup semi-finals only to be sent off in a narrow defeat by France in Auckland.

After he missed the early part of the current European season through injury, Warburton starred against Scotland and in the record 30-3 thrashing of England that saw Wales secure the Six Nations Grand Slam.

But his leadership credentials were called into question after he appeared to want to concentrate on his own game during the Championship.

New Zealander Gatland, seconded from Wales to coach the Lions, selected 15 Welshmen in his squad - Wales's largest Lions representation in 36 years.

England provided 10 players including prop Matt Stevens, who missed the 2009 tour while serving a two-year drugs ban and retired from England duty after the 2011 World Cup.

Gatland included only two recognised flyhalves in Ireland's Jonathan Sexton and England's Owen Farrell - both of whom Wilkinson, speaking after kicking all of Toulon's points in their 24-12 European Cup semi-final win over Farrell's Saracens at Twickenham on Sunday, said should be chosen ahead of him.

There were nine Ireland players selected by Gatland, himself a former Ireland coach, with Scotland providing three including New Zealand-born wing Sean Maitland although scrumhalf/flyhalf Greig Laidlaw was left out.

A squad of 16 backs and 21 forwards - with Warburton one of 25 first-time Lions.

This will be the Lions first tour of Australia since a side coached by Gatland's compatriot Graham Henry, New Zealand's 2011 World Cup-winning supremo, lost a three-Test series 2-1.

AFP

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