Sam Warburton fit to lead Lions against Highlanders

Solenn Plantier
Juin 15, 2017

The Kiwi-born defensive specialist is Ireland's first-choice outside centre, but can also excel in the 15 shirt.

"I watched the Highlanders against the Crusaders right at the start of the season", he said.

"We can be pleased with our defence but we probably have to be a bit more clinical with some of those line breaks, particularly when we get in the 22", he said.

Gatland's 41-man squad boasts such impressive depth that it would be folly to gamble on a man who has concerns over his ability to last the game.

Warren Gatland has accused Super Rugby teams of illegal scrummaging following the Lions' victory over the Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday night.

The Lions skipper believes boss Gatland boasts a "nice luxury" of eight back-rowers all worthy of Test-match selection.

"I'll be honest with Gats and he will be honest with me".

If Warburton were to be left out for the first Test, the expectation is Jones or Owens would then be given the nod to carry their mascot BIL onto the field.

"We had a laugh and giggle about it but I definitely owe him one".

"But we are ready to get battle-hardened for a test match, we are still ramping it up in training because we have to be up to breakneck speed for the first test".

Dan Biggar (head) has been passed fit while Ireland's Jared Payne has shaken off a calf issue press his claims at full-back.

Interim Highlanders head coach Scott McLeod, whose team face the Lions in Dunedin on Tuesday, admits interpretation is at the heart of the matter.

"We're bearing the fruits of the last three weeks". We are professional players and we take our preparation very seriously. Now, the likes of Tommy Seymour, Jack Nowell and Iain Henderson, who have been quiet on the tour to date, have an opportunity to make an impression as Gatland divides his squad between his likely Test 23 and his midweek dirt-trackers. Billy Stead, from Invercargill, wrote the innovative, revolutionary "Complete Rugby Footballer" with the great Dave Gallaher in 1906 while Jimmy Duncan, from Dunedin, was the first All Blacks coach and is credited with inventing the term "five-eighth". The business end of the tour is fast approaching.

However, the franchise are still without their biggest names - the Smiths, Ben and Aaron, for example, are missing and they play such a crucial role in their attacking game - who are involved with both the All Blacks and Maori All Blacks this week.

So, assuming the scenario that sees all three Welshman warming the bench or a seat in the stands, to whom can Gatland turn to lead the Lions out against the All Blacks? I'm really excited about Tuesday's challenge.

Their matches tend to be open and high-scoring and they will have All Blacks flyhalf Lima Sopoaga and winger Waisake Naholo among a unsafe crop of backs ready to capitalise on any lapses in the touring side's defensive line.

Luckless Scotland fullback Hogg collided accidentally with Conor Murray's elbow in Saturday's 12-3 win over the Crusaders.

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