British and Irish Lions captain Sam Warburton says he is fully fit and ready to “crack on” for the New Zealand tour.
Wales star Warburton has not played since suffering a knee injury early last month, but he is firmly on course to potentially lead the Lions in next week’s tour opener against a Provincial Barbarians XV.
“I am fully fit, which is good,” said Warburton, speaking at the Lions training base in Kildare, Ireland yesterday.
“Last week in the camp in Wales I was pretty much doing everything apart from just the last little bit of contact stuff.
“But today I trained fully. We did full contact, and I was absolutely fine. That’s all the boxes ticked, and now I can crack on.
“We’ve only had one day here, but we can run pretty much two lineouts and get some team stuff going.
“We can do it all fully-loaded. All the boys are pretty much up to the speed. We can start building some momentum.”
Warburton will lead a squad packed with international talent, although one of its biggest names – England No 8 Billy Vunipola, pictured – dealt the Lions a major blow when he withdrew on Sunday due to a shoulder problem.
“Billy was one of the guys I was really looking forward to playing with who I hadn’t played alongside before,” Warburton added.
“He has been a massive player for Saracens. It is a big loss for us, but James [Haskell] coming in – I think only Rory Best and Alun Wyn Jones have got more caps than him in the squad – means we are very lucky.
“He is a player who I think will have a massive impact on this tour.
“I think it was a mature and brave call for Billy to make. There would have been a lot of pressure on him to go on tour, and he could have ended up going, perhaps playing the first two games, and he might have felt under-par and could have ended up being sent home anyway with his shoulder.
“He will be gutted, but he is young enough – he could perhaps go on another two Lions tours. I am sure he will be back, and in four years’ time he will be red-hot for the Lions.”
Warburton is relishing taking charge of the New Zealand trip, which culminates in a three-Test series against the world champion All Blacks, starting at Eden Park, Auckland on 24 June.
“All the boys are on a similar wavelength – we’ve all been in the rugby environment for a number of years,” he said.
“I can’t wait to get out there. I am not going to be naive, I know it is going to be more under the microscope perhaps than four years ago.
“Four years ago, I was walking around Melbourne and Australians were asking me who the British and Irish Lions were.
“I know there is not going to be anywhere in New Zealand we go and that question is going to be asked. That’s great.
“If you asked me in my career which Lions tour could I pick to go on out of any of them, if I could pick one, I would pick New Zealand, because it’s New Zealand. I personally can’t wait.”