Woodward backs Warburton to lead Lions
LONDON (AFP) –
England World Cup-winning coach Clive Woodward believes Wales’ Sam Warburton should captain the British and Irish Lions on their forthcoming tour of Australia.
The flanker was in superb form as Wales retained their Six Nations title with a record-breaking 30-3 win over England in Cardiff on Saturday to deny their arch-rivals a Grand Slam.
Although Warburton led Wales to the 2011 World Cup semi-finals and a Grand Slam of their own last year, the back-row forward — injured earlier in this season’s Six Nations — declined the captaincy of his country last weekend when Ryan Jones withdrew through injury.
Warburton made it clear to the Wales team management he wished to concentrate on his own game unhindered by the burdens of captaincy, which will be significantly greater for whoever is leading the Lions against the Wallabies as they bid for a first Test series win since triumphing in South Africa in 1997.
However, that didn’t deter Woodward, a former England and Lions centre who guided his country to World Cup glory in 2003 before overseeing the combined side’s humbling 3-0 series loss in New Zealand two years later, from nominating Warburton for the captaincy.
“He would be favourite for me. The Lions captain has to be an automatic choice — you can’t have a captain who any players question should be in the team. I think Warburton is back to his best.”
The man who will have the decision this year is Warren Gatland, who has been seconded from his post as Wales boss to coach the Lions, drawn from leading players in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales.
“I think it’s about picking players who are playing well at the moment. It’s a difficult job and I think he (Gatland) is in a great position,” Woodward added. “We all wish him well.
“I think the Lions have a great chance. I think Warren has the players and will be very confident after Saturday’s round of games. But it will be a hugely challenging tour.”
The Six Nations, which promised much after an encouraging first round but sagged badly before Wales’ rousing finale, won’t be experienced New Zealander Gatland’s only guide to Lions’ selection.
Several players who missed the tournament through injury will look to press their claims for selection in club matches, with the European semi-finals weekend coming before Gatland names his squad on April 30.
Former Lions captain Paul O’Connell, fellow Ireland international Tommy Bowe and Wales’ Dan Lydiate fall into this category.
“We came under a bit of pressure to name the squad a week earlier from the suppliers who have to get a lot of the gear out, get the players suits done and stuff,” Gatland said Thursday.
“But that is a week that could potentially be significant where there is a lot up for grabs and it gives players who may have been injured more opportunity to come back.”