LIONS SKIP­PER FIT AND READY TO ROAR

War­bur­ton fully re­cov­ered from knee in­jury, set for All Blacks chal­lenge

New Straits Times - - Sport -

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

REUTERS PIC

Bri­tish & Ir­ish Lions cap­tain Sam War­bur­ton dur­ing the press con­fer­ence on Mon­day.

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