Warburton thrilled to be back
Published 04/02/2014 | 11:42
Sam Warburton is ready to resume normal service for Wales in a potential title-shaping RBS 6 Nations showdown against Ireland on Saturday.
The Wales captain will start his first game for 10 weeks, giving the reigning Six Nations champions a boost against arguably their major rivals for silverware.
A 16-minute run off the replacements' bench during last Saturday's 23-15 victory over Italy confirmed his comeback from a shoulder injury.
"I was delighted because I felt so good," Warburton said.
"It was good to get a hit-out just to get the lungs going again, just to feel getting back up off the floor and working hard. You try to replicate that in training.
"It always takes a game to get that timing back, that's why it was good to compete at the breakdown last weekend and get some timing going. It was good to get rid of the cobwebs."
Warburton will reclaim his familiar number seven shirt as one of three changes from the Italy encounter. Elsewhere, prop Gethin Jenkins replaces Paul James and lock Andrew Coombs takes over from an injured Luke Charteris.
Wales have beaten Ireland three times in the last four meetings, including a 2011 World Cup quarter-final triumph, and if they can emulate their thrilling Dublin victory of two years ago then another title march would be well and truly under way.
"They are a tough team, and we have to be very direct against them," Wales boss and former Ireland coach Warren Gatland said.
"I think a good example - and we mentioned this to the players this week - was Northampton's (Heineken Cup) performance against Leinster in December.
"How they were embarrassed at home (Leinster won 40-7 at Franklin's Gardens), and then you saw how they turned things around the following week (Northampton won 18-9 in Dublin).
"There was nothing flash about it. They (Northampton) just fronted-up physically. Two big midfielders that day in (Luther) Burrell and George North did a fantastic job. We have some physicality in our back-line, so expect us to be fairly direct.
"We have not lost away (in the Six Nations) since March 2011. That's a pretty good record. We are pretty comfortable in this tournament.
"There is no team we fear, and it's great to go away from home and have that confidence that you can win, and even sometimes you have to grind out the ugly win - that's important, too.
"I think if you look back at the last World Cup, we were absolutely outstanding (against Ireland). We put in a superb display that day, but Saturday is going to be tough.
"I thought two years ago in the Aviva we started well and were very strong in the first 25 minutes, but they were dogged and got back into the game. We are going to have to use our power and physicality this week."
Gatland, meanwhile, has led the tributes to Wales full-back Leigh Halfpenny, who will win his 50th cap on Saturday. Prop James will also clock up a half-century if the Bath loosehead makes an appearance off the bench.
"He (Halfpenny) has been absolutely outstanding - the ultimate professional," Gatland added.
"The thing with Sam as captain is he does not get too many chances to walk out in front (of the team) because of these milestones of all the other players!
"It's a great honour for Leigh, and hopefully we can put in a winning performance for his 50th cap."