Tuesday 12 December 2017

'I needed to have that fear of being dropped'

Warburton explains how giving up Welsh captaincy has revitalised him

Sam Warburton believes giving up the Welsh captaincy was the right call Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images
Sam Warburton believes giving up the Welsh captaincy was the right call Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images

Mick Cleary

Wales will no doubt be surprised, if not bemused, to learn that they have Joey and Chandler from Friends to thank for the resurgence of Sam Warburton.

It was the pair's advice to Rachel in an episode of the US sitcom which inspired the flanker to give up the national captaincy and to prove that he was worthy of his starting position as a player.

Warburton goes into today's match against Scotland at Murrayfield on the back of two displays in the opening games which Lions coach Warren Gatland has termed "outstanding". Clearly, the removal of the captaincy has given the 28-year-old a new lease of life and vindicated his decision to tell Rob Howley, Wales' interim coach in Gatland's absence, that he no longer wanted to do it.

"Sometimes you look back on these things and wonder if the right decision was made, but I definitely think this was," he said.

"I still have to back it up again this weekend and make sure I do for the whole of the campaign.

"But I have been satisfied with the way I have played individually so far They have been better performances than in 2016.

"It's weird; because not a lot has actually changed. I guess it's in your head, a perception of not being captain and the weight that it takes off your shoulders. I don't know why.

"You see it across the board where people are not captain and perform a bit better. It must be mental but it has had a positive effect on me."

Warburton is re-energised after a 2016 in which he fell into a rut.

"I guess I had become stale," he admitted. "I thought if I wasn't captain I'd have more hunger. I set myself a challenge to justify my place in the starting XV without the armband. If you are captain, it is a massive call to drop you.

"It sounds a bit stupid, but I recall an episode of Friends when Joey and Chandler recommended to Rachel for her to quit her job and go for another one. When she asked why, they said: 'Because you need the fear.'

"It is a similar thing with this. I needed to play not knowing I'd be involved in the next game. I needed to have that fear of being unselected."

The other Welsh personnel pushing for the back-row nod made this a very realistic fear.

"I knew this was going to be the toughest selection we've ever been involved with,' he said. "You really do know that, if you fall below 90pc level, you'll probably go down to the bench or not be selected at all."


That is evidenced in the fact that Taulupe Faletau, the Lions No 8 who has long been considered Wales' most influential player, only makes it as a replacement against Scotland, despite having fully recovered from a back injury and having regained his match fitness with 27 minutes against England two weeks ago and the full 80 minutes for Bath last Saturday.

Between them, Warburton, Ross Moriarty and Justin Tipuric have made an undisputable case for the status quo to remain, although it will be intriguing to see how they cope with their Scottish counterparts, who, despite Josh Strauss' kidney injuries, also look extremely strong. Indeed, the floor is where it could be won or lost, as Wales look for a 10th successive triumph over Scotland.

"Back-row is nuts for competition," Warburton said. "Scotland's has been performing extremely well at the breakdowns. It has been a focal point for us this week and we are going to have to be really good there in our attack and make sure we do not get turned over."

If they edge the breakdown, a second win of the Championship will very likely be theirs and they will feel they still enjoy a sniff of the title.

Warburton, meanwhile, appears a shoo-in for the Lions tour to New Zealand, although with his new mindset he is not taking anything for granted, regardless of his close relationship with Gatland.

"The last time I spoke to Warren, was when he was (in the Welsh camp) once before we played England," he said. "He does not have much contact with the players and watches from afar. I shook his hand and said, 'Hello', and he said, 'Good luck'.

"Players do not want to look like they are sucking up to coaches so you keep your distance. It has to be a level playing field for all the nations."

There has even been speculation that Warburton could be asked to captain the Lions, as he did under Gatland in Australia in 2013. However, Warburton is unsure if he will captain any side again.

"I have not thought about it," he said. "At the minute I am enjoying not doing it, focusing on myself. If it was the best thing for the team, of course I would do it. I took over in Rome when Alun-Wyn (Jones) went off, but I did not have an option then. I just had to get on with it."

Verdict: Wales

Scotland - S Hogg, T Visser, H Jones, A Dunbar, T Seymour, F Russell, A Price; G Reid, F Brown, Z Fagerson, R Gray, J Gray, J Barclay (capt), J Hardie, R Wilson. Reps: A Dell, R Ford, S Berghan, T Swinson, H Watson, H Pyrgos, D Weir, M Bennett.

Wales - L Halfpenny; G North, J Davies, S Williams, L Williams; D Biggar, R Webb; R Evans, K Owens, T Francis, J Ball, A-W Jones (capt), S Warburton, J Tipuric, R Moriarty. Reps: S Baldwin, N Smith, S Lee, L Charteris, T Faletau, G Davies, S Davies, J Roberts.


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