Sam Warburton urges Lions selectors to make him fight for starting spot

Sam Warburton's first act as Lions captain was to tell the coaches that he would not expect to play in the first Test against Australia next month if his form did not merit selection.

The Wales flanker sees himself as a first among equals and does not want his status to grant him any favour.

The British & Irish Lions, or at least 27 of the 37 players who are not involved in cup finals or league play-offs, have spent the week at Wales's training base in the Vale of Glamorgan and, after a weekend off, will gather again in Dublin on Monday for five days in the Irish capital.

"Everyone has gelled really quickly, as I thought they would," said Warburton, who is sharing a room with one of his rivals for the captaincy, Ireland's Paul O'Connell, who led the 2009 Lions in South Africa. "The schedule could be better, but when the home unions come together before domestic international periods, they only have two weeks to prepare.

"We are getting to know each other and we are coming up with things off the pitch. We have formed some committees to get the boys together and get some bonding together. I have said in senior meetings that the senior players will be vitally important but everyone will have an input. There is a lot of onus on the players to do their analysis off the pitch, making sure we all know the calls and hit the ground running.

"What Warren Gatland [the head coach] has emphasised is that he feels he has a squad where everyone can compete for a Test starting place, and that's the best way to be, putting everyone on edge in training. Watching everyone working on weights and fitness, you can tell people have lifted it from international level. The bar has been raised.

"I have told the coaches that a part of captaincy I do not like is that you don't want to become complacent and think you have got a starting place in the team. I like it when you go into the team announcements and you are on the edge because you do not sure if you are going to get picked. Knowing that you might not be involved is what keeps you going in training and keeps you dedicated off the pitch as well. I do not like to think that the captain will always start."

Despite the Lions only coming together as a full squad a couple of days before they leave for Hong Kong at the end of the month, they are regarded as the favourites to win the series against Australia. Some former Lions have said they expect a 3-0 series whitewash, but Warburton, who has led Wales six times against the Wallabies without success, expects close, hard-fought encounters.

"I have been very impressed with the Australian sides in the Super Rugby tournament this year," he said. "The key players seem to be playing very well at the right time. Whenever there is a Lions tour, the national side we are playing against – whether it is Australia, New Zealand or South Africa – always seem to come good in a Lions year, which shows how much it means to them to be involved in the Test series.

"Momentum is key. There may be setbacks on the tour and it will be a matter of learning from them and putting things right the following week. The great thing about bringing four teams together is that you cover all the bases: there are similarities to what we do with Wales but there are also bits from the other camps.

"As captain, it is pretty similar to Wales when players from four regions come together, but it is on a bigger scale. I have told everyone not to call me skipper but Warby. That's boring, I know, but it is the way I like it. We are all in this together."

Powered by article was written by Paul Rees, for The Guardian on Wednesday 15th May 2013 19.26 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


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