Warburton understands Lions focus

Wales skipper Sam Warburton says he understands why the 2013 Lions tour to Australia is currently on everybody's lips. [more]

Warburton understands Lions focus

Wales skipper Sam Warburton says he understands why the 2013 Lions tour to Australia is currently on everybody’s lips.

The influential openside has been heavily tipped to captain Britain and Ireland’s elite Down Under having led Wales to a World Cup semi-final and then Grand Slam glory in his short time in charge.

Warburton is regularly asked about his chances of doing just that and, while he admits he has to focus on the here and now rather than on ifs and maybes, he is fully aware that the tour can often seem just around the corner for the fans.

“I get asked about it a lot and it’s on the tips of peoples' tongues,” Warburton told Sky Sports News.

“I can see from a fan’s perspective that they look at the end of the season as just around the corner. But if I stay injury free – touch wood – I could have another 20 games to play.

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“I’ve got over the first hurdle in getting some games under my belt with the Blues and now the next step is the autumn internationals. If you can play well for your country then you put your hand up for the Lions.

“But I think the big shop window for the Lions will be the Six Nations campaign. That will be the one where the players will have the Lions in the back of their minds. You’ve always got to prioritize your club and country first but I think that will be the main shop window for selection.”

Warburton is preparing to lead his country into an autumn campaign that features Test matches against Argentina, Samoa, New Zealand and Australia.

Caretaker coach Rob Howley will lead Wales for the opening two internationals, with permanent boss Warren Gatland rejoining the fold for the final two encounters after concentrating on his scouting for the Lions early on in November.

Howley was in the hot seat when Wales headed Down Under for the summer series against the Wallabies and Warburton insists the switch has been almost seamless given the work ethic built up within the camp and the respect the players have for both men.

“Rob’s been great. We had him in charge on the summer tour of Australia as Warren’s had his injury to his ankle,” added Warburton.

“The environment that we’ve created stayed the same in training. Rob gets on with all the players; he’s a great coach and I think I speak on behalf of all the players when I say that I thoroughly enjoyed working with him.

“All the players are happy and it shouldn’t disrupt us too much.

“Warren’s been a massive influence on me and the other players but I think we’re going to have a successful campaign.”

Hard work will once again be at the heart of that potential success and Warburton is under no illusions as to the size of the challenge facing the Grand Slam Champions throughout November and into December.

The All Blacks haven’t lost since August 2011, the Wallabies have beaten Wales five times in the last 12 months, Samoa were tough opposition at the last World Cup, and Argentina are an even better side now that they’ve been admitted to the southern hemisphere’s top table.

“It’s a massively challenging autumn campaign but one the players are really looking forward to.

“The great thing about the autumn is that you have four home games on the bounce. They’re week after week and all at the Millennium Stadium, which the players love.

“It’s a pretty tough campaign because they’re consecutive games, one week after another, so physically it’s very demanding.

“With Argentina’s involvement in the Rugby Championship their standard of rugby will just go through the roof over the next few years with the intensity of rugby they’re experiencing.

“Samoa are probably the most physical side I’ve played against and then New Zealand and Australia speak for themselves.”

Warburton demonstrated his own physical toughness last weekend when he took to the field for Cardiff Blues against Toulon a week after suffering a nasty dislocation of his finger up in Sale.

The 24-year-old received plenty of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ when he tweeted a picture of the initial injury but he was back in training in double quick time as he made light of the situation.

“The finger’s fine now. It was dislocated behind and to the side so it was quite nasty. The x-ray showed that it was just completely out of its joint but I was training within two days – strap it up and carry on!

“The doctor tried initially to put it in pitch side because normally they put a bit of tape around it and you carry on playing.

“But in the end it took four doctors to get it back in. I had one doctor holding my wrist, one holding the bottom part of my finger and another big fella pulling the top of it.

“Luckily, I was on some gas and air to get me through it!”

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