War­bur­ton ea­ger to em­u­late Mcbride feat by beat­ing Ki­wis

Irish Examiner - Sport - - RUGBY - Si­mon Lewis

Sam War­bur­ton achieved a ca­reer high­light just get­ting on the Li­ons’ bench for last week’s first Test against New Zealand.

To­mor­row he will be fac­ing the biggest chal­lenge of his ca­reer.

Peter O’ma­hony’s oust­ing from the Li­ons squad a week af­ter cap­tain­ing the Test side at Eden Park may have grabbed the at­ten­tion of Mun­ster and Ire­land sup­port­ers when head coach War­ren Gat­land yes­ter­day re­vealed his match­day 23 to save the se­ries at West­pac Sta­dium this week­end but for blind­side flanker War­bur­ton it is a re­turn to the po­si­tion he was se­lected for back in April.

As the Test-se­ries win­ning skip­per against Aus­tralia in 2013, the Welsh­man carved his name among the greats of North­ern Hemi­sphere rugby but lead­ing the Li­ons in New Zealand against an All Blacks side that has al­ready taken a 1-0 lead in the three-game show­down has given the 28year-old a rare shot at his­tory.

Only Wil­lie John Mcbride has re­turned home from a suc­cess­ful se­ries against the Ki­wis and War­bur­ton un­der­stands the size of the task. As one-off games go, to­mor­row’s sec­ond Test would be at the top of the list of im­por­tance.

“It’d be num­ber one. It’s def­i­nitely the biggest chal­lenge of my ca­reer so far,” War­bur­ton said. “It’s the one team I haven’t beaten in world rugby as well so it’s some­thing I’m des­per­ate to achieve.

“I have man­aged to beat every other na­tion in the world but I haven’t beaten New Zealand. For that fact, put to­gether with be­ing away from home, start­ing in a Test match, it’s go­ing to be the biggest hon­our in my ca­reer lead­ing the boys on Satur­day so I can’t wait for that.

“We know it’s all or noth­ing now. We have one chance. It’s like knock­out rugby and hope­fully that brings the best out of the guys. It’s sim­i­lar to the Six Na­tions and a lot of must-win games.”

he has taken the place of last week’s Test cap­tain is not lost on War­bur­ton but he coun­ters that with the fact he was over­looked for O’ma­hony seven days ear­lier, hav­ing to set­tle for a place on the bench for the first Test.

“Pete was one of the first guys I wanted to go and con­grat­u­late when they picked that first Test team. I think he has done a bril­liant job over the past three Satur­days as cap­tain and I think ev­ery­one in the squad would agree.

“To­day he was one of the first play­ers to come up to me as well. All the play­ers in this tour — it’s not about the cap­taincy — it is very much team first. Pick the squad then the cap­tain.

“All the play­ers ap­pre­ci­ate that and we want to be part of a win­ning Test se­ries. When I look back at 2013 I don’t look at play­ers not in­volved in that last Test as non-se­ries win­ners. You all are. As long as you con­trib­ute that is the most im­por­tant thing.”

War­bur­ton, who lost the Wales cap­taincy to Alun Wyn Jones at the start of the Six Na­tions, in­sisted he was per­fectly sat­is­fied with bench duty at Eden Park given his trun­cated build-up to the New Zealand tour as he bat­tled back with a knee in­jury suf­fered against Ul­ster at the be­gin­ning of April. The tour opener against the Pro­vin­cial Bar­bar­ians was his first game back and he suf­fered an an­kle strain that fur­ther limited his game time.

“To be per­fectly hon­est, go­ing into the tour when I had my knee in­jury, it was eight weeks out of ac­tion and I rethat mem­ber think­ing put a pos­i­tive spin on it, ‘it’ll be a minipre-sea­son and I’ll be fresh’, but re­ally it wasn’t great tim­ing, it was poor tim­ing for me.

“So to get on the bench for the first Test, I was think­ing about this, that for me in­di­vid­u­ally it was the third biggest high­light of my ca­reer, I started the first two Tests in 2013 and then be­ing on the bench for a Test match, and I’ve al­ways said when I go on the Li­ons tour that I just want to be in­volved in the Test matches, that’s what it’s all about re­ally.

“So to be on the bench, I was ab­so­lutely de­lighted and it was go­ing to be the third biggest in­di­vid­ual achieve­ment of my ca­reer and per­son­ally I was over the moon.

“When I said be­fore that I was ap­proach­ing it as tour cap­tain rather than Test cap­tain, I spoke to War­ren about it and I re­mem­ber chat­ting a cou­ple of weeks be­fore, just af­ter the High­landers, and I said: ‘I’ll be hon­est, I don’t feel I’m at that level that I was in the Six Na­tions since I’ve come back from my in­jury’.

“But now I do feel ready, I’ve had a few hit-outs now and I do feel ready to get back to that level that I was in the Six Na­tions.”

War­bur­ton at­tributes his lack of suc­cess against the All Blacks with Wales in part to his team’s men­tal weak­nesses. He re­called a 2014 Cardiff Test against them when the Welsh were hold­ing their own against Richie Mc­caw’s team only to con­cede a lucky try and men­tally dis­solve.

“From that point then, we cas­caded, went down­hill and we went down pretty badly.

“At that point, for over an hour we were do­ing pretty well but what’s re­ally good about this group of (Li­ons) play­ers, the guys around me are guys who have the men­tal­ity which I want from them, they don’t care who they’re play­ing against. For me it isn’t the colour of a jer­sey, they’re all hu­man be­ings who we’re play­ing and any­body can get put un­der pres­sure, any­body. It’s about mak­ing sure we can do that on Satur­day.

“Look­ing back to last Satur­day they def­i­nitely de­served to win that. There were two chances they took ex­tremely well and jus­ti­fied why they’re the best team in the world but I def­i­nitely be­lieve, with the guys that we’ve got and the way that they’ve been speak­ing this past week, that ev­ery­body’s got the per­fect at­ti­tude to win this game on Satur­day.

“I think it’s very dif­fi­cult to know where 15 play­ers are at men­tally. I al­ways pride my­self that I’ll never quit, ever. I think in a team of 15 play­ers, you only need two or three guys to think that, to drop their head and that could be the game gone. You need 15 guys who stay on it for the whole 80 min­utes and those guys who come off the bench, ex­actly the same.

“I think you get that in a

Li­ons team. It’s very easy when you con­cede points and you’re un­der the posts, no heads ever drop down be­cause ev­ery­one’s so com­pet­i­tive and they’re all lead­ers in their own way that you don’t get that in Li­ons teams re­ally. You might have a cou­ple of guys at in­ter­na­tional level who drop their heads but you def­i­nitely don’t get that on the Li­ons.”

Pic­ture: IN­PHO/DAN Sheri­dan

GOTTA HAND IT TO HIM: Sam War­bur­ton says to­mor­row’s sec­ond Test against New Zealand rep­re­sents the biggest chal­lenge of his ca­reer.

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