Captain must earn place, says Lions coach
With many players in blistering form, there is no special treatment for Sam Warburton
British & Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland says tour captain Sam Warburton will have to earn his place in the test side for the series against Australia with his performance against the New South Wales Waratahs today.
With all seven of his loose forwards fit and in blistering form, Gatland admits choosing who is going to fill the three back row berths against the Wallabies in Brisbane on June 22 is going to be a bit of a headache.
The selection of a tour captain who does not deserve a place in the test side but is picked anyway has been blamed for the failure of past Lions tours, most notably those of 1966 and 1983. That precedent is something Gatland is not keen to emulate, even if he believes Warburton will ultimately secure his place on merit.
"I think I've been 100 per cent consistent from day one. It's about picking the best players," the New Zealander said.
"Sam's well aware of that. He had a good blowout last week against the Reds, he had a couple of good turnovers, so let's see what happens on Saturday rather than trying to create some controversy about potentially leaving one or two players out of the team."
Warburton, who missed the first two games of the tour because of a sore knee, made his Lions debut against the Queensland Reds last weekend in an all-Welsh back row with blindside Dan Lydiate and number eight Toby Faletau. Today, he will again start in the number seven shirt with England's Tom Croft on the other flank and Irishman Jamie Heaslip at the back of the scrum.
His fellow Welshman Justin Tipuric put in a storming display at openside against the Combined Country side in midweek, while Ireland's Sean O'Brien also ably pressed his claim on the blindside of the scrum.
"It's the one position we haven't got any injuries and if you look at the talent we've got there, they're all firing," Gatland said. "You saw Sean O'Brien's ball carrying from six the other night, and we know he can play seven, the talent and quality Tom Croft brings to the back row. Then you've got the devastation defensively and the tightness that Dan Lydiate can bring. So there's a variance in the loose forwards and the two eights are different types of players as well.
"It's going to probably be a long night in making that decision when we do choose the back row."
Gatland said playing Warburton and Tipuric together was another option.
While the Lions forwards are at full strength, the backline has been so depleted by injury that England centre Billy Twelvetrees was called up to provide midfield cover.