Warburton’s Lions hopes

Sam Warburton admits he needs an injury-free season to fulfil his childhood dream of playing for the Lions. [more]

Warburton’s Lions hopes

Sam Warburton admits he needs an injury-free season to fulfil his childhood dream of playing for the Lions.

Ever since picking up a rugby ball Warburton has had a burning ambition to represent the famous tourists.

And after leading Wales to a World Cup semi-final and a Grand Slam in the past 12 months he is has been hotly tipped to earn selection and is a contender to captain the side.

But the Cardiff Blues flanker has also been plagued by injuries and knows he will have to avoid any lengthy spells on the sidelines in order to tour Australia.

"The Lions is getting mentioned a lot now and it's something I've wanted to do since I was a 14-year-old kid," said Warburton.

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"I can understand why people are talking about me captaining the Lions. I have been captain under Warren (Gatland) for 12 months. But I really don't want to look too far ahead.

"To have a chance of going I first of all have to stay injury-free. My first hurdle is getting through pre-season, then I have to get back and play well enough for the Blues and hopefully that will lead to bigger honours. I can't lose focus and have to take it one step at a time."

Running repairs got Warburton through the World Cup in New Zealand but he played just eight matches for the Blues' before Wales' all-conquering Six Nations.

During the Championship he was again blighted by injuries. He was replaced at half-time against Ireland due to a dead-leg and missed the clash with Scotland as a result. He returned for the Triple Crown victory over England but suffered a knee injury, which ruled him of the Italy match and damaged his shoulder against France, which kept him on the sidelines until Wales' summer tour.

Warburton is well aware of the need to stay injury free during a Lions year and is wary of the threat from bolters – citing the rapid rise of Cardiff Blues team-mate Leigh Halfpenny in 2009.

"A lot can happen in 10 months. This time four years ago nobody knew who Leigh Halfpenny was but he went on to get picked by the Lions. You never know who is lurking around the corner," added the fearsome flanker.

"I have to knuckle down and produce good performances for the Blues before I can think of anything else."

But after a five-week break, in which he got engaged to long-term partner Rachel, Warburton is feeling better than ever. And after returning to pre-season training last week he is hoping to reap the rewards.

"I just needed to not be the rugby player. I completely switched off from it and that was the best thing for me after a really long season – it takes it out of you emotionally and physically.

"I was creaking towards the end of last season. I had six injections, two in the shoulder and two in each knee just to keep playing. It's a short term solution but having this time off has been great.

"I've come back with the Blues and hit the physical conditioning pretty hard. Hopefully we will reap the rewards for the tough work we're doing.

"Right now I feel the best I have in a long time. My shoulders aren't aching, my knees aren't clicking and I'm fresh both physically and emotionally."

Warburton could come up against the Wallabies one more time before the Lions tour Down Under next year.

Wales welcome Robbie Deans' side to the Millennium Stadium in December, after clashes with Argentina, New Zealand and Samoa.

The 23-year-old is still bitterly disappointed by Wales' failure to secure a Test victory during their summer tour, as the Wallabies secured a 3-0 series whitewash, but he is confident they can secure an elusive southern hemisphere scalp in the autumn.
 
"It's difficult when you lose three in a row, we put so much effort into those Tests and it was hard to take," added Warburton.
"I'm not one to make excuses and I'd never want to say we lost because x, y,z, players were missing or it being the end of the season because they had things to deal with as well.

"But beating these sides is the next step and we know we can get that scalp. We're a confident bunch and with the games at home we can get it done. We have to win every game."

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