Rugby: Warburton tipped to captain Lions in Aust

By Steve James

Sam Warburton endured a difficult start to the Six Nations. Photo / Dani McDonald
Sam Warburton endured a difficult start to the Six Nations. Photo / Dani McDonald

Sam Warburton will be announced tonight as captain of the British and Irish Lions for their tour of Australia in a squad that will contain at least 15 Welshmen.

Warburton has captained Wales successfully under head coach Warren Gatland and is understood to be preferred to Ireland's Paul O'Connell, who captained the Lions to South Africa in 2009.

Gatland has never appointed a back as captain, so that ruled out Brian O'Driscoll, who was also overlooked as Ireland's captain this season, and Chris Robshaw's claims were finally shattered by England's thrashing at the hands of Wales in the final match of the RBS Six Nations.

The appointment of Warburton, who was Gatland's Wales captain at the 2011 Rugby World Cup and when winning the 2012 Grand Slam, will be ratified at today's final selection meeting but it would take an extremely surprising change of heart for him not to be handed the honour.

Warburton endured a difficult start to the Six Nations, losing both his place and the Wales captaincy after suffering injury, but his performances in the last two matches of an ultimately triumphant campaign against Scotland and England were world-class.

It will be Warburton's first Lions tour, but Gatland likes his character, being especially impressed with his reaction to adversity during the recent Six Nations, and his naturalon-field leadership qualities. Warburton is also comfortable with the media.

His appointment sets the tone for a party that will be dominated by Welshmen and could feature as few as eight English players.

With Gatland set to take Wales' Justin Tipuric and Ireland's Sean O'Brien alongside Warburton as openside flankers, Robshaw may not make the tour party at all.

The England captain could play at blindside flanker, where his teammate Tom Croft is a likely tourist, but his fate could be sealed by the final decision last night on Wales' Dan Lydiate.

There are some concerns about Lydiate's match fitness after he broke an ankle in early season. Lydiate, O'Connell and Ireland wing Tommy Bowe are three players Gatland has been eager to return to fitness after long lay-offs.

There will be few surprises, but it is possible that there will be a bolter in Billy Twelvetrees, who started just twice for England during the Six Nations, and could be selected as an inside centre.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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