SAM Warburton might be captain of the 2013 British and Irish Lions – but he does not want or expect preferential selection treatment.
Wales star Warburton is more than happy to play a nervous waiting game in team meetings throughout the ten-match trip, because that is exactly what he thrives on.
“You don’t want to become complacent and think you have got a starting place in the team,” he said.
“I like it when you go into the team announcements and you are on the edge not knowing if you are going to get picked.
“Knowing that you might not be involved is what keeps you going in training and keeps you dedicated off the pitch as well.”
Warburton’s approach will come as no surprise to Lions head coach and his Wales boss Warren Gatland, who recently appointed him as the first Welsh Lions leader since 1977.
It is that selfless approach that has underpinned his rapid rise to the top, having already captained Wales to a World Cup semi-final and a Six Nations title despite being just 24.
And he has been at the forefront on familiar territory this week during the Lions’ first pre-Hong Kong and Australia training camp at the Welsh Rugby Union’s magnificent Vale of Glamorgan training facilities.
The squad is not yet at its full 37-man strength, given the European and domestic final commitments of teams such as Leicester and Leinster, but Warburton has been impressed with what he has seen so far.
“You wonder what it is going to be like, but we’ve had all the meet and greets, trying on all the kit – there was a monumental amount of kit to get through on Monday – and now we can get back to training,” Warburton added.
“The boys have gelled really quickly, as I thought and hoped they would.
“The schedule from a Lions point of view could be better, but we have just got to deal with what we’ve got at the moment. We’ve still got good numbers in training, so there are still plenty of options.
“What Warren has emphasised is that he feels he has a squad where everyone can compete for a Test starting XV place, and that’s the best way to be, so everyone is on edge in training.
“Even just lifting weights and doing fitness work, you can tell people have lifted it from international level. The standard and the bar has been raised, and all the boys are gunning for those Test spots.”
The squad will be based in Wales until Friday, before a weekend off and then reconvening for another week’s camp, this time at the Ireland Test squad’s training base near Dublin.
“Ahead of the autumn internationals and Six Nations with Wales we only have two weeks’ prep anyway,” Warburton said.
“There is a lot of onus on the players to do their analysis off the pitch, making sure we all know the calls.
“That’s the easy stuff, sitting down in front of a laptop, doing your homework so when we come to training we hit the ground running.
“Momentum is key. There might be setbacks on the tour but it is about not panicking if they happen. As long as we learn from them and put things right for the next game, it is a good learning curve.”
The Lions are just over two weeks away from their opening tour fixture against the Barbarians in Hong Kong, then nine games follow in Australia, highlighted by three Test match appointments with the Wallabies.
It is 16 years since the Lions won a Test series, while their last visit to Australia in 2001 produced a 2-1 defeat after the Wallabies fought back from losing the Brisbane opener.
“I have been very impressed with the Australian sides in the Super Rugby tournament this year. The key players seem to be playing very well at the right time,” Warburton added.
“Every time there is a Lions tour, the national side we are playing against – whether it is Australia, New Zealand or South Africa – always seem to come good in a Lions year, which shows how much it means to them.”