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Sam Warburton won't wait as he tells Warren Gatland he wants to play in British and Irish Lions tour opener

The Independent logo The Independent 31/05/2017

© Provided by Independent Print Limited Sam Warburton has sent a message to British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland on the opening day of the tour by revealing he wants to play against the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians this Saturday, having been forced to wait four years ago.

On that occasion Gatland kept Warburton in the sideline until the third match, with the captain the final member of the 37-man touring party that saw action on the 2013 tour after suffering from a knee injury in the build-up.

This time around, Warburton again goes into the tour with doubt hanging over him, with the Cardiff Blues flanker not playing since the first week of April after again injuring his knee while on club duty.

image © Provided by Independent Print Limited image But after declaring he was fully fit last week, Warburton used the squad’s first day in New Zealand as a chance to push his own selection credentials ahead of Wednesday night’s team meeting and Thursday’s subsequent squad announcement.

“We’ve got a meeting tonight which is going to be squad selection so I presume a lot of the guys that been involved over the last two and a half weeks will be make up the majority of the team, but we find out tonight for sure,” Warburton said on Wednesday.

Asked if he wants to be involved from the get-go, the captain answered: “That’s what I’m hoping is going to happen this time around.

“I’ve got a good chance as I’ve been in the camp for two and a half weeks but that’s what frustrated me about four years ago. I played the third game on tour, I think I was the last guy in that squad to play a game and I was pretty jealous, I’d see the guys’ red jerseys coming back in laundry nice and clean and they’d actually got the jersey. That’s just what you want to get in your kit bag and actually say you’d played for the Lions on this tour so obviously I’m desperate to be involved in this game.”

Warburton led out the team as they arrived at Auckland International following a two-day trip that took in stop-offs at Dubai and Melbourne – the latter “on the advice of the medics” according to tour manager John Spencer, despite the links to official sponsors Qantas.

As part of the warm reception put out by the New Zealand Rugby Union, the 41 squad members and 33 management staff were greeted with a Maori welcoming that included a Haka and a Hongi, where Warburton pressed his forehead and nose against that the Maori welcoming party.

Sam Warburton experienced a traditional Hongi welcome as the Lions arrived in Auckland (Getty)

It was nothing new for the skipper though, who experienced the same when he led Wales in the Rugby World Cup six years ago, but he admitted just how surprised he remains with how warm the welcomes are for any rugby side in the Land of the Long White Cloud.

“I’ve got to be careful as I’ve got a bigger nose than most people,” joked Warburton. “I'm quite used to that from 2011 I had quite a few Maori welcomes. I’ve spent 11 weeks here, I'm quite used to that and really enjoy it.

“Maybe I enjoy it more as I’m older whereas when I was younger I was a rabbit in the headlights. In New Zealand everyone’s so friendly which is why it’s my favourite place to play rugby in the world, outside of my home country.

“That was great for us, as soon as we hit the ground.”

The Lions squad were given a Maori welcome in Auckland (Getty)

The team that faces the Provincial Barbarians, which includes fly-half Bryn Gatland, son of head coach Warren Gatland, will be announced at 07:00 in New Zealand on Thursday morning [8PM UK TIME], though Warburton already has his eye on the secret agent inside the opposition camp.

“We know the No 10 pretty well,” Warburton added. “I've known Bryn when he was coming in to kick with the squad six, seven years ago. The Welsh lads know him well.”

Having landed the drop goal that secured North Harbour promotion to the National Provincial Championship last season, Warburton is all too aware of the danger he poses.

“I've a tonne of respect for Bryn, he showed a lot of courage for that drop-goal last year. You have to give him a lot of credit for that. He's in a good bloodline.

“I’m looking forward to coming up against him and shaking hands afterwards. He's got a lot of potential.”

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