Sunday 25 June 2017

Confirmed: Wales star Sam Warburton to captain the Lions against the All Blacks this summer

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 22: Sam Warburton of the Lions grits his teeth during the First Test match between the Australian Wallabies and the British & Irish Lions at Suncorp Stadium on June 22, 2013 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images for HSBC)
BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 22: Sam Warburton of the Lions grits his teeth during the First Test match between the Australian Wallabies and the British & Irish Lions at Suncorp Stadium on June 22, 2013 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images for HSBC)

Andrew Baldock

Wales star Sam Warburton has been announced as British and Irish Lions captain for this summer's New Zealand tour.

The 28-year-old Cardiff flanker becomes the second player to be named skipper for two Lions tours, following England World Cup winner Martin Johnson.

His appointment was confirmed by tour manager John Spencer at Wednesday's Lions squad announcement in west London, and comes four years after Warburton led the Lions in Australia.

Comment: The Lions is meant to unite rather than divide - real rugby fans should remember that 

Warburton, who has won 74 Wales caps and led his country in two World Cup campaigns, is currently injured.

He suffered a medial knee ligament strain during the Blues' Guinness PRO12 clash against Ulster earlier this month, but is only expected to be sidelined for up to six weeks.

He could even return to action for Cardiff before the Lions depart to New Zealand on May 29, if they reach the European Champions Cup qualification play-offs.

Warburton will lead a Lions squad of 19 backs and 22 forwards, and he is among 12 Welshmen selected.

Reflecting on the appointment, Gatland said: "Sam is a great player, an outstanding leader and a winning Lions captain.

"We believe that Sam's experience and leadership qualities make him an obvious choice as captain.

"He has earned the respect of his peers and coaches through his resilience, tenacity and hard work."

On the eve of the announcement, Warburton attended a private dinner with all the living Lions captains in the Hilton Syon Park Hotel, near Twickenham.

Warburton added: "Being in the same room as so many Lions legends was an amazing experience.

"I feel humbled and extremely proud to be given the opportunity to captain the Lions for a second tour, and look forward to playing the world champions on their own turf with the best players of the UK and Ireland at my side."

Assessing the squad, Warburton said: "The quality of players to pick from this year is incredible.

"It is an immensely strong squad. Every one of those guys is a top-class player."

Reflecting on how he was given the captaincy news by Gatland, Warburton added: "I found out last Thursday.

"I was in a supermarket car park back home. My wife was just in the shop getting some bread and milk.

"I didn't want to go in because there is a cashier there who always wants to talk about rugby.

"I actually hung up on 'Gats' first of all when I got the call. I thought it was one of the boys messing with me. They had been messing with me for days.

"But then I spoke to 'Gats', and he asked me."

On his injury, Warburton added: "It's fine. I know how to manage it. There is no doubt I will be 100 per cent fit for the start of the tour."

And Gatland has no doubt that Warburton will lead from the front, stating: "He is the right man for the job. He did a great job in 2013, so for us he was a natural choice.

"There has been healthy debate about the squad, and now that it has been announced we get behind it 100 per cent and everyone supporting what is an incredible, traditional team.

"There is no clear number one, number two or number three in certain positions, which is what makes us pretty excited about the quality of the squad we have going to New Zealand."

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