Warburton eager to taste New Zealand blood

Wed, 19 Apr 2017 20:21

REACTION: Sam Warburton has never savoured victory over New Zealand, but says he is relishing scaling the "pinnacle of my career".

The Wales back row forward was named to captain the British and Irish Lions, when coach Warren Gatland announced a 41-man squad Wednesday for the three-Test series in June and July.

Warburton, the victorious captain during the 2013 tour - when the B&I Lions scored a two-one series win in Australia - is just the second man after England great Martin Johnson (1997 and 2001) to lead the Lions on two tours.

But he has yet to enjoy a Test win over New Zealand - with Wales's last success against the All Blacks coming way back in 1953.

The Lions' lone Test series triumph in New Zealand was in 1971.

Added to that, two of the three Tests this year will be played at Eden Park, where New Zealand have not lost in the professional era - with the All Blacks reeling off 36 consecutive wins, including a 2011 World Cup final triumph, at their Auckland fortress since 1995.

As for the Lions, their solitary win in 10 Tests at Eden Park was a 9-6 success in 1959.

Eden Park was also the venue where Warburton was sent off for a dangerous tackle during Wales's agonising 8-9 World Cup semifinal loss six years ago.

"New Zealand are the only team I haven't beaten yet in my international career and it's something I'd love to do," said Warburton after the squad was announced.

"People would look at that as a bad thing, but I would never take the field against New Zealand and think, 'Crikey, I haven't beaten these before'," the Cardiff Blues flanker, a veteran of 76 Tests, added.

"You respect them for what they are and you know they've got a fantastic history and win percent ratio, but every time you take that field you've got a chance to win, regardless of who you are or where you are playing."

However, he admitted: "It's going to be the toughest thing I've done. [The] 2013 [winning tour] was amazing, it was all fresh, it was all new.

"But captaining the Lions for a second time and the fact it is in New Zealand, it definitely ranks as the pinnacle of my career so far," added Warburton, who expects to have recovered from a knee injury by the time the squad departs at the end of May.

The Lions may be underdogs but Ireland's 40-29 victory over the All Blacks in Chicago in November proved the world champions are not invincible.  

"What was impressive, and when England beat them in 2012, the breakdowns were ferocious," said Warburton.

"They were both extremely brave in their decision-making and you know you are going to have to score tries.

"We are going to have to be slightly more attacking than we are used to [in the Six Nations]."

This season saw Warburton's Wales place called into question amid fierce competition from fellow loose forwards Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau and Ross Moriarty, all of whom have been selected for the Lions by Gatland, the Kiwi on secondment from his role as Wales boss.

Warburton resigned as Wales captain, with lock Alun Wyn Jones leading the side in the Six Nations.

But while the softly spoken Warburton has sometimes appeared a reluctant skipper, he insisted he was in the right frame of mind to lead the Lions again after recovering from a slump in form.

"If I felt I'd only scraped into the squad and they asked me to captain, I would have said I was not in the right frame of mind to do it," he said.

"Because now I do feel I am playing well and I feel very confident about my game, that's why I said yes."

Agence France-Presse

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