You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

British and Irish Lions 2017: Why Sam Warburton has already proved himself to be one of the true greats

The Independent logo The Independent 10/07/2017 Jack de Menezes

© Provided by Independent Print Limited They just don’t build them like Sam Warburton very often. After becoming the only British and Irish Lions captain to avoid defeat on two tours, he has made history in his own little way, although he would be the last one to tell you about it.

Warburton was selected by Warren Gatland to captain his Lions squad for the second successive tour for two reasons. The first – and most important – is that he is a highly-talented rugby player that when fully fit is capable of being the first name on the team sheet. The second is that he always knows the right thing to say, with a refreshing honesty that engages whoever the listener is: teammate, referee or writer.

This reflected when Warburton was asked in the wake of the thrilling 15-15 draw that saw the series against New Zealand tied at 1-1 what the Lions means to the players and why should it continue – a subject that will be of hot topic in the coming weeks as the global calendar talks continue and the Lions’ future becomes much clearer.

“Speaking on behalf of the players, we’d always want the Lions to happen,” Warburton said, having found his voice after being lost for words with how the series had ended in a stalemate. “I am sure most players would say the Lions is the most special thing you’ll do in your international career. I think it’s a must that the Lions should continue.

“If we can come to New Zealand and achieve what we have achieved against some of the best club sides in the world, then we should be confident we can go anywhere and achieve that.

image © Provided by Independent Print Limited image “I think we’ve proved the tour can work on the current schedule. It does make it difficult and obviously the odds were stacked against us, but at least we know it can work in future.

“I know there are things that are over my head when it comes to the finances and the politics of it, but from a playing perspective I would like to give my opinion.”

Warburton’s input would be a welcome addition to the talks, given the fans that make the Lions tour what it is resonate with the players much more than they do those who are making these decisions at World Rugby, Premiership Rugby and the clubs in the home nations that are reluctant to budge on their stance.

read-warburton-2.jpg © Provided by Independent Print Limited read-warburton-2.jpg However, the skipper let himself down slightly when the full-time whistle rung out at Eden Park after 80 frantic minutes. The confusion over the penalty that wasn’t a penalty – Ken Owen’s offside infringement being downgraded to an accidental incident that robbed the All Blacks of a potential match-winning penalty – spread to the end of the match, as Warburton readied himself for extra-time.

“I was expecting to go again,” he said. “I didn’t actually realise it was a drawn series. I was ready for 20 minutes of extra time. I was trying to drink as many electrolytes as I could because I was cramping up, but then I realised everyone was shaking hands and I thought: ‘oh, it’s a drawn series.’ You never think it is going to go down to that situation so I never looked into what would potentially happen.

“If I had to I would probably have tossed a coin and gone for the win, with extra time or golden point or something. I think it would have made for an amazing climax. I think it would be nice to see a winner.”

Regardless, Warburton returns home still an unbeaten captain in terms of Lions series, having joined Martin Johnson as the only two-time skippers in the side’s 129-year history. His shirt from the second Test victory in Wellington will join his 2013 first Test jersey on his wall at home, where they will be the only pieces of rugby memorabilia in the Warburton household.

lions-all-blacks.jpg © Provided by Independent Print Limited lions-all-blacks.jpg But that immediately triggered the obvious question: could they be joined by a third? At 28 years old, Warburton would still be in contention to feature on the 2021 tour of South Africa, with head coach Gatland admitting “the key is holding his body together”. For Warburton, he doesn’t know what the plan will be in four years’ time, but he took a fairly bleak outlook on the prospect of a third tour.

image © Provided by Independent Print Limited image “Crikey, I don’t know if I will be playing then!” he said. “I have got three more years on a National Dual Contract with Cardiff Blues. I would love to try and get to the next World Cup and then depending on how my body feels I will come to a crossroads at that point and see what I will do.

“It’s probably a bit of a long stretch to try and make the next Lions tour. I would want to make sure that physically I was at my best. I am not sure how I am going to feel in four years’ time. Obviously you would love to, but I haven’t really looked much further beyond the next World Cup.”

If he doesn’t make South Africa 2021, it would not hurt his legacy one bit. Warburton has carried himself in the most exemplary of manners, and while the series victory just evaded him, he will go down as one of the greats.

© Provided by Independent Print Limited

More from The Independent

The Independent
The Independent
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon