Sam Warburton last night insisted that regaining the Wales captaincy will not be a personal motivating factor when he lines up against Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday.
For the first time in almost two years, Warburton will start an RBS Six Nations Test match and not be Wales skipper. That duty remains with his back-row colleague Ryan Jones – as it will for next week’s England clash, barring injury or loss of form – after he helped orchestrate back-to-back away victories over France and Italy.
Wales coach Rob Howley admitted that Warburton, who is seven years Jones’ junior and has won exactly half his 72 caps, was left “disappointed” by the decision. But Wales’ 2011 World Cup captain, who led them to Six Nations title glory and a Grand Slam last season, has dismissed any notion of it affecting him. “My focus right now is making sure I do myself justice and play well at the weekend,” he said after regaining the No 7 shirt from Justin Tipuric. “Getting the captaincy back won’t be a motivating factor. It will just be to play well for the side. Ryan has done a great job over the last two weeks and I don’t see any need to change the team dynamics. It has obviously worked for us over the last couple of weekends, but Rob’s said I can still have an input. It’s not just Ryan on his own – he needs other guys.
“I might look closely at the contact area and how the referee is managing that, Adam Jones the scrum and Alun-Wyn [Jones] the lineout. It just makes sense to keep Ryan as captain. It’s a position that is interchangeable and there are probably six or seven guys doing some form of leadership.
“Ryan is the best captain I’ve played under, so I have no qualms with him leading the side. He has a wealth of experience and, tactically, he’s very clued-in. He’s been around a lot longer than a lot of the players and, when it comes to tactical decisions, he reads referees well, has a good relationship with a lot of them in the way he talks to them and is a very good motivator. It comes with experience. I learn things all the time. The more you play the more you pick up these things.”
Jones will lead Wales for the 32nd time – an ongoing record – in Edinburgh and he is ready for another punishing shift at the coalface.
“I am here and I want to contribute to this team whichever way the coach and team require. That’s my role in this group,” Jones said.
“When a call needs to be made, it will be down to me, but Sam and many others will be consulted at different times, when required. They will certainly have input. It is an opportunity for Sam to concentrate on his own game, put all the other worries and stuff to one side and just go out and be the player we know he is.”
15 L Halfpenny (Cardiff)
14 A Cuthbert (Cardiff)
13 J Davies (Scarlets)
12 J Roberts (Cardiff)
11 G North (Scarlets)
10 D Biggar (Ospreys)
9 M Phillips (Bayonne)
1 P James (Bath)
2 R Hibbard (Ospreys)
3 A Jones (Ospreys)
4 A Wyn Jones (Ospreys)
5 I Evans (Ospreys)
6 R Jones (capt, Ospreys)
7 Sam Warburton (Cardiff)
8 T Faletau (Dragons)
K Owens (Scarlets), S Andrews (Cardiff), R Bevington (Ospreys), A Coombs (Dragons), J Tipuric (Ospreys), L Williams (Cardiff), J Hook, S Williams (Scarlets).