Captain’s call

Sam Warburton says he intends to lead by example after being named Lions captain for the 125th anniversary tour of Hong Kong and Australia. [more]

Captain’s call

Sam Warburton says he intends to lead by example after being named Lions captain for the 125th anniversary tour of Hong Kong and Australia.

Warburton was officially handed the ultimate honour this morning when head coach Warren Gatland announced his 37-man squad at a packed press conference at a London hotel.

The 24-year-old Welshman was selected ahead of the likes of 2009 tour captain Paul O’Connell and 2005 skipper Brian O’Driscoll despite the fact that the veteran Irish duo will both be involved on the 10-match tour.

“I’m not the sort of person who’s going to be talking down to experienced players or ruling with an iron fist,” said Warburton.

“I’m not going to try and take control of everything. It’s very much going to be a collective effort from a group of senior players when it comes to leadership.

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“Experienced players on the tour are going to be really important and I’ll have to rely on them as it will be a massive learning curve for me.

“With a good Welsh contingent, there will be guys there who I know I can rely on already and it will be a case of building relationships with players I don’t know or haven’t met yet.

“I’ll approach it exactly the same as I do for Wales, really, so the Welsh boys will probably be used to it. I’m quite a quiet, reserved guy and I think people know that. I think I’m very professional on and off the pitch and I’ll try and set that standard.

“You’ve got to train hard and train smart. You’ve got to make sure that you’re not cutting any corners and I think that’s the sort of impression players like to see.

“Playing well is the main thing – players will respect their captain if he’s playing well and that’s got to be the priority.”

Warburton will certainly have to play well on tour given that competition for places was arguably tougher than ever before this time around, particularly when it comes to his own position of back row.

Gatland could have picked a whole host of other top contenders rather than the seven men he and fellow coaches Andy Farrell, Rob Howley and Graham Rowntree eventually opted for and Warburton is fully aware of the depth of talent around him.

But rather than feel the pressure of responsibility or worry that he faces a tough task just to secure a Test spot against the Wallabies, the Cardiff Blues openside claims that strength in depth is a huge positive for both himself and the Lions as a whole.

“When you come into a squad combining all four nations, it could almost be a bad thing if someone was a shoe in. You want that level of competition and it shows the standard amongst the squad that that’s the case across the board,” added Warburton.

“The one concern I’ve always had with captaincy is making sure that I don’t get complacent – your place in the team is never nailed on. That’s obviously never going to be the case with the Lions with the standard of the squad being so high and you want that competition to bring the best out of players.

“People talk about pressure but it’s not really pressure – it’s a dream come true. There’s pressure that you put on yourself to perform, but to have the opportunity to play with top-class players in something that only happens once every four years and has so much history attached to it, is something that I can’t wait to do.”

Waiting is something Warburton has had to get to used to over the past week or so – waiting to tell those around him of his greatest achievement, that is.

Gatland made him aware of his decision nine days ago but Warburton was sworn to secrecy ahead of today’s live, televised announcement.

The former Cardiff RFC and Glamorgan Wanderers star admits it’s been hard going keeping quiet and putting friends and colleagues off the scent, especially when leading the Lions is the ultimate honour.

“I’ve had to tell hardly anybody and that’s been very difficult. I told my fiancé and my parents but that was it. You obviously go to training and other players read the papers more than I do and they’ve been asking me if it’s true or not and been trying to catch me out. It’s been the hardest thing, lying to my friends for over a week!

“The boys at the Blues knew I was more than likely to go London on Monday night if I was going to be the captain so they were asking me if I wanted to go out for food or if I could cover them for a charity night or things like that! I had to be quite sharp and think of an excuse on the spot. They were trying to catch me out and put two and two together but I wouldn’t let anything slip.

“Warren phoned me up to tell me nine days ago. You imagine the conversation but it doesn’t seem real when it happens and it’s very strange. He buttered me up a bit first, asking me about the body and chatting about the Blues for a bit, and then he asked me. I couldn’t really believe it despite the hype and the press, but it was a no brainer and I said ‘yes’ straight away. I put the phone down and I think punching the air was my first reaction.

“It still hasn’t really sunk in yet and it might not until the full squad assemble. People have spoken about me and the captaincy over the last 12 months or so and I’ve always batted the question off but now it’s a reality. I stayed away from all the questions from the press, and my friends and family knew not to ask me about it anyway. I was always just concerned about my performances for Wales and the Blues.

“I said from day one that it was out of my control whether or not I was going to be picked or not, so you can’t worry about it. I just kept my head down but I’m delighted to get the nod. It’s by far the biggest accolade any British or Irish player could achieve – it’s the ultimate.

“If I went through my career without playing for the Lions, I’d be so gutted. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and have been desperate to do since I started playing rugby really so I’m absolutely thrilled to get called up. I’m extremely privileged and I can’t wait to get started now.”

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