Friday 22 September 2017

Reluctant skipper Warburton eager to kick-start Welsh revival

Sam Warburton of Wales
Sam Warburton of Wales

Matt Majendie

When Warren Gatland approached Sam Warburton to be Wales captain, the softly-spoken flanker did not really want the job.

So it is somewhat ironic that when he leads out the side against France in Paris today, he will equal Ryan Jones' record of 33 games as Welsh skipper.

Warburton (right) is a passionate football fan - particularly of Tottenham - who pores over autobiographies from the sport, most recently the latest book from Roy Keane, but has come to the conclusion that he is no snarling pit bull like the former Manchester United midfielder.

It is a sentiment backed by Warburton's team-mates, who, as one, point out that he does his talking on the pitch, while Gatland has increasingly taken to likening his skipper to Richie McCaw, who has led New Zealand for over 100 Tests.

It is a comparison that makes Warburton (right) shift uncomfortably in his seat as the Cardiff Blues flanker talks modestly about his latest landmark. "It has sort of crept up on me quite quickly," he said.

"It was never a motivation. I was always focused as a young player to be able to play for Wales."

Wales are bidding for a fourth straight victory over Les Bleus for the first time since the 1950s.

There is little to choose between the two sides today, although a France team that has appeared flat under Philippe Saint-André in their opening games have hinted at a bolder approach judging by the coach's selections for this game, in particular Morgan Parra's return at scrum-half.

"They have probably been at times relatively conservative in the way they have played," said Gatland, "and I think they will go and express themselves a bit more and potentially throw the ball around."

Meanwhile, France lock Pascal Pape has appealed against his 10-week ban for kneeing Ireland's Jamie Heaslip in the back, claiming the suspension "was excessive and disproportionate".

An appeal hearing will be held in London next week. Pape will have played his last Six Nations match unless his ban is reduced, but the veteran will extend his Test career to the World Cup.

Stade Francais' Pape was sin-binned for his crude challenge on Heaslip in France's 18-11 defeat to Ireland in Dublin, but was later cited for the incident.

The former Bourgoin and Castres enforcer was found to have committed the act deliberately by a Six Nations disciplinary hearing, who limited his ban to 10 weeks after he admitted remorse.

Pape apologised to Heaslip on Twitter, with the Leinster star fully accepting the message, ahead of the initial disciplinary proceedings.

The former France captain had claimed his actions were unintentional, but that did not find any merit with Six Nations bosses.

France coach Saint-Andre had claimed the challenge was an accident, but Heaslip was left with three broken vertebrae in his back.

France edged out Scotland 15-8 in their opening Six Nations match before slipping to defeat in Dublin. (© Independent News Service)

France - B Dulin; Y Huget, R Lamerat, W Fofana, S Guitoune; C Lopez, M Parra; E Ben Arous, G Guirado, R Slimani, R Taofifenua, Y Maestri, T Dusautoir (capt), B Le Roux, D Chouly. Reps: B Kayser, U Atonio, V Debaty, J Suta, L Goujon, S Tillous-Borde, R Tales, M Bastareaud.

Wales - L Halfpenny; G North, J Davies, J Roberts, L Williams; D Biggar, R Webb; G Jenkins, S Baldwin, S Lee, L Charteris, A-W Jones, D Lydiate, S Warburton (capt), T Faletau. Reps: R Hibbard, P James, A Jarvis, B Davies, J Tipuric, M Phillips, R Priestland, S Williams.

Ref -J Peyper (South Africa)

France v Wales,

Live, BBC/RTE, 5.0

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