Sam Warburton: Warren Gatland, Joe Schmidt and Vern Cotter should all take charge of Lions tour to NZ

By Gavin Mairs

Wales skipper Sam Warburton and coach Warren Gatland. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Wales skipper Sam Warburton and coach Warren Gatland. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Sam Warburton believes that a combined New Zealand coaching team of Warren Gatland, Joe Schmidt and Vern Cotter could give the British and Irish Lions their best chance of success on their tour to play the All Blacks next year.

The Lions board are due to appoint a head coach for the tour in August following this summer's tours by the home nations, and Gatland is the strong favourite following his series victory over Australia in 2013.

Warburton, who captained the Lions to that 2-1 win, believes that a combination of Gatland, Ireland coach Schmidt and Scotland's Cotter could be the key for the tourists' hopes of defeating the back-to-back world champions for the first time since their historic win in 1971. Eddie Jones, who won the Grand Slam with England in his first season in charge, has already ruled himself out of contention.

Warburton said he would be keen to work under Schmidt and Cotter, as well as Gatland. "Warren has obviously got the most experience and he knows what Lions tours are all about so I can understand why he would be a lot of people's front runner," said Warburton, who is likely to be the favourite for the captaincy if he maintains his form and fitness.

"He has also obviously won a Test series before so it puts him in a great position.

"I think the summer tours will have a bit of a bearing and ideally it would be great to pick two or three coaches out of the home nations.

"From what I have seen I think they are all great coaches. Warren has been the best coach I have played under but it would be great to get the other guys involved.

"It does put them in a strong position, being Kiwis. I think it puts them at an advantage over a coach who has achieved the same things who might be European, for example.

"The fact that they have psychologically a little bit of inside knowledge on the way Kiwis play rugby and how they might approach matches could be quite important."

Warburton recalled an incident in 2008 when Wales were famously involved in a haka stand-off against New Zealand at the Millennium Stadium as one such example.

"That was Warren Gatland's insight. He asked the players when did the haka finish and nobody actually knew," Warburton explained.

"He said it was when the first opposition player turns around, so it was Martyn Williams [the former Wales captain] who said, 'What happens if we don't turn around?' Warren said, 'Do it and find out!' I think those psychological benefits are fantastic to have from a northern hemisphere perspective."

As for the captaincy, Warburton said his sole target was to win a place on the tour, given the competition at openside flanker. However, the 27-year-old, who hopes to boost Cardiff Blues' hopes of winning a place in the Champions' Cup next season with a victory against the Ospreys in the Guinness Pro12 'Judgment Day' at the Principality Stadium on Saturday, did say that he felt he was a much better captain now than he was in 2013.

"I think I have changed a lot over the last five years as an international captain, and three years since the Lions tour. To other people I am probably exactly the same in the way that I speak and the way I conduct myself but I think I handle it a lot easier now.

"I did find it a lot of pressure and I did not like being in the public eye really when it comes to press conferences, interviews and photo-shoots. I don't like to be on a pedestal above anyone else. I don't think that is what a captain should be. He still has to have a great relationship with his players and that's what I like to have.

"I have got used to it now though. I have been captain of Wales, and including the Lions, for over 40 Tests, so I now handle the match day and the build-up week much better and it doesn't put me off my game as much as it used to.

"At the beginning I was more conscious about how I was going to deal with the referee, how I am going to deal with press conferences and post-match functions when you have to do speeches.

"Now I have done it so many times it does not bother me. I just take it as it comes. I am a lot more relaxed in my approach than I used to be."

- Daily Telegraph UK

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