Sam Warburton says the recent British & Irish Lions tour of Australia was the best moment of his rugby career ‘by a mile’.
The 24-year-old openside led the Lions to a first series success in 16 years last month as Britain and Ireland’s elite downed the Qantas Wallabies in thrilling fashion.
Warburton missed the final Test win with a hamstring injury but started the previous two internationals, producing one of the standout performances of the tour in Melbourne.
“It wasn’t until I got home and realised we had won a Test series that it sunk in what we had done. It was fantastic. It was the fans who help make the tour. They were awesome and it has to rank as the best two months of my rugby career by a mile,” said Warburton.
“I remember thinking after we (Wales) beat England in the Six Nations it would be hard to top it, but the Lions did. It was tough to miss the last Test but, if somebody had told me at the start of the year that I would be Lions captain and start two Tests, I would have taken that.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect with the Lions, teaming up with players you normally play against, but we bonded straight away. Everybody embraced it from day one and, from a captain’s point of view, it couldn’t have been any easier.”
Warburton is now hoping the Welsh squad can build on the confidence gained from glory with the Lions when they return to action against South Africa in Cardiff on November 9.
Warren Gatland’s men then meet Argentina and Tonga before clashing with Australia once more at the end of the month and, with 10 Wales players in the starting line up for that famous Lions triumph in Sydney, Warburton believes there will be a big buzz around the camp as preparations begin for the 2015 World Cup.
“In rugby hours two years is a long time, but we are already in the cycle leading up to the World Cup. Psychologically, beating Australia with the Lions was huge, especially with so many Welsh players being involved in the Test matches,” added Warburton, whose side are grouped with the Wallabies for the next global gathering.
“We will be in good shape for the World Cup and can challenge for it. We have got more guys coming through and competition brings the best out of you. We saw that with the Lions.
“It has given Wales a massive boost and, with the 2015 tournament being held in England and there being some matches here (Cardiff), it’s going to be like playing at home.”
As for his own future, Warburton hasn’t made a decision on where he will be playing his rugby ahead of the World Cup despite having just one season left on his current contract with the Cardiff Blues.
Warburton and fellow Blues and Lions star Leigh Halfpenny have been linked with a switch overseas but the flanker says he remains relaxed about his situation and is happy to hold off on talks until the new campaign gets underway.
"I've still got 12 months, still a relatively long time, so I've got a whole season to make that decision.
"Because we've been away on the Lions tour, the full focus was with the Lions. Since I've come back I've pretty much laid low and spent some time with family.
"We're going back into the Blues next week and then you can focus on the new season and your future. I guess that's when negotiations may start, sometime in the new season."