LIONS SKIPPER FIT AND READY TO ROAR
Warburton fully recovered from knee injury, set for All Blacks challenge
SAM Warburton boosted the British and Irish Lions on Monday declaring himself fit and ready to captain them in next month’s daunting tour of New Zealand which includes a three-Test series with the world champions.
The 28-year-old Welsh backrow forward — who coach Warren Gatland named as skipper after his successful captaincy in the series win over Australia four years ago — said he had fully recovered from a knee injury that laid him low in early April.
“I am fully fit, which is good,” said Warburton, speaking at the Lions training base in Kildare, Ireland.
“Last week in the camp in Wales I was pretty much doing everything apart from just the last little bit of contact stuff.
“But today (Monday) I trained fully. We did full contact, and I was absolutely fine.
“That’s all the boxes ticked, and now I can crack on.”
Warburton, who is only the second player to captain the Lions twice — the other being England’s 2003 World Cup winning skipper Martin Johnson (1997/2001), said he was saddened that England star No 8 Billy Vunipola would not be able to tour having been ruled out with a shoulder injury on Sunday.
“Billy was one of the guys I was really looking forward to playing with, who I hadn’t played alongside before,” said 76-time capped Warburton.
“He has been a massive player for Saracens.
“It is a big loss for us, but James (Haskell) coming in — I think only Rory Best and Alun Wyn Jones have got more caps than him in the squad — means we are very lucky.
“He is a player who I think will have a massive impact on this tour.
“He (Vunipola) will be gutted, but he is young enough — he could perhaps go on another two Lions tours.
“I am sure he will be back, and in four years’ time he will be redhot for the Lions.”
Warburton, who was relieved of the captaincy of the national side for the Six Nations after a loss of form, says that despite no Lions side having won in New Zealand save the 1971 vintage he was licking his lips at the challenge.
The first of the three Tests is on June 24 at Eden Park — a veritable fortress for the All Blacks where they have won 36 successive Tests including the 2011 World Cup and suffered their last defeat there in 1995.
“All the boys are on a similar wavelength — we’ve all been in the rugby environment for a number of years,” said Warburton, who was sent off in the 2011 World Cup semi-final against France played at Eden Park.
“If you asked me in my career which Lions tour could I pick to go on out of any of them, if I could pick one, I would pick New Zealand, because it’s New Zealand. I personally can’t wait.” AFP
British & Irish Lions captain Sam Warburton during the press conference on Monday.