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Preview: Warburton back in familiar territory for Wales

Preview: Warburton back in familiar territory for Wales

Former British & Irish Lions captain Sam Warburton is aiming to make himself a menace at the breakdown after being restored to his favoured No.7 jersey for Wales’ Friday night clash with France.

"I’ll get myself in the game a bit more there, from a contact point of view."

Former British & Irish Lions captain Sam Warburton is aiming to make himself a menace at the breakdown after being restored to his favoured No.7 jersey for Wales’ Friday night clash with France.

Warburton was at his inspirational best at openside flanker for the Lions in 2013, helping the tourists to their first series victory in 16 years.

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But the 27-year-old has been in relatively unfamiliar territory for Wales’ opening two Championship games – playing on the blindside after Warren Gatland chose to pair him up with fellow Lion Justin Tipuric.

That experiment, however, will come to an end against France, with another 2013 tourist in Dan Lydiate restored to No.6 and Tipuric losing his place to Warburton.

Indeed it is a clear sign that Gatland trusts no one else more than his skipper to stop France from moving the ball quickly – and clearing enough space when in possession of the ball.

But while Warburton is relishing his shift back across, he admits there are few better impact players off the bench to replace him than Tipuric.

“I will make a more conscious effort to go harder at the ball and compete, because I think that’s an area of the game I think we need to improve on, and slow opposition ball down,” he said.

“I’ve been thinking about that quite a bit, if I was given the chance to play seven, to really compete for that ball and try and slow the French ball down.

“I don’t really mind who I play with out of the guys in the back row, but obviously I’m more familiar with openside.

“I’ll get myself in the game a bit more there, from a contact point of view, but I think we’re lucky that we can have someone like Dan (Lydiate) to come in and Justin (Tipuric) on the bench – we’re blessed in that area.

“But, for me, it’s quite nice to be back in a familiar position.”

As ever the Welsh spine contains many familiar faces to any Lions fan, with Alun Wyn Jones and Taulupe Faletau also taking their place among the starting pack.

And a 2013 Lion returns to the starting XV in Alex Cuthbert, who has been in fine form for Cardiff Blues and replaces his clubmate Tom James on the wing.

Jonathan Davies – after overcoming fitness concerns – and Jamie Roberts partner up once more in the centres, while George North will look to build on his try-scoring performance against Scotland.

That victory over Scotland could not have been more crucial after an opening draw in Ireland, and Warburton is not taking a return to form for granted.

“I don’t think we appreciated back then just how hard it is to win a Six Nations Championship,” he explained.

“We’ve all been working particularly hard to get the Six Nations title back in Wales because, even though we’ve had a good couple of years going back three or four years ago, we realise now that it is very difficult to win a Six Nations.

“We definitely want to get another title under our belt and we’ve still got a great chance to do that this year.”
 

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