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Captaincy won't hamper Warburton

Wed, 01 May 2013 11:31
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The first thing I always prioritise is performance
Quote-end

Sam Warburton insisted he was just delighted to be a member of a British and Irish Lions squad, let alone the captain, after being unveiled as skipper of the combined side for their tour of Australia.

The 24-year-old, the youngest Welshman to lead the Lions and only the fourth after Arthur Harding (1908), John Dawes (1971) and Phil Bennett (1977), was the choice of coach Warren Gatland.

Former Ireland and Wasps boss Gatland, seconded to the Lions from coaching Wales, is a big fan of the back row forward, who only won the first of his 38 Test caps in 2009.

The New Zealander made Warburton Wales captain in 2011 and that year saw him lead his country to the last four of the World Cup, only to be sent off in a 8-9 semifinal defeat to France in Auckland for a dangerous tackle on Vincent Clerc.

Warburton and Wales bounced back to win the 2012 Six Nations Championship with a Grand Slam.

However, he only captained Wales in this season's Championship in one match, the opening 30-22 defeat by Ireland in which he was injured, missing the 16-6 win in France.

Warburton returned to the team, initially as a substitute, under the leadership of Ryan Jones and Gethin Jenkins, starring in a record 30-3 thrashing of England in Cardiff that saw Wales retain their Six Nations title.

But the fact the Cardiff Blues flank, in consultation with interim Wales coach Rob Howley, did not resume the captaincy led to questions over his suitability to lead the Lions on his maiden tour with a squad of players from the four Home Unions of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales.

"The first thing I always prioritise is performance," Warburton said.

"And that was why going into the last [Six Nations] game against England it was the best decision for myself and the team not to take the captaincy, because at that moment in time I had to make sure I got the performance right.

"It wasn't about lifting the trophy with Ryan and getting the plaudits again as a two-time winning Six Nations captain at a young age. That wasn't it for me.

"I just wanted to make sure I could play well for the team and do my role. That has always been my style."

Warburton, one of 24 players on their first Lions tour in a squad of 37, said his style of captaincy had always involved making use of the experienced heads around him.

And he said it was an approach he planned to continue with Gatland's squad also including two former Lions captains in Ireland duo Brian O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell.

"Playing for Wales, we have a leadership team of five or six players - guys like Alun-Wyn Jones, Jamie Roberts, Adam Jones, Gethin Jenkins, Mike Phillips - who are very influential when you are on the pitch," he explained.

"Fortunately, for me, those guys are involved this time around with the Lions, and experienced guys from the other nations as well will have a similar input.

"It would be very silly of me to ignore two ex-Lions captains," insisted Warburton, bidding to lead the Lions to a first series win since their 1997 success in South Africa.

He added: "I can't wait to do it - it's a dream come true. Ever since I was a kid, I have wanted to play for the Lions.

"The captaincy had never been in my mind, which is why it is such a shock, and I am so delighted."

The Lions' 10-match tour starts against the Barbarians in Hong Kong on June 1. They play the first of three Tests against Australia in Brisbane on June 22.

AFP

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