British & Irish Lions
Warburton recounts 'dream' call from Gatland
ESPN Staff
May 1, 2013
Wales' Sam Warburton reflects on being chosen to lead the Lions to Australia

British & Irish Lions Sam Warburton has revealed how he found out that he was the man that coach Warren Gatland wanted to lead the side to Australia this summer.

The 24-year-old was confirmed as Lions skipper yesterday following months of speculation regarding the make-up of the 37-man squad and who would spearhead their challenge for a series victory over the Wallabies.

However, Warburton was informed of the decision several days in advance of the announcement and has admitted it was difficult keeping the news a secret. "I was at my mum and dad's house, and I heard my mobile go off in the kitchen, where it was charging," he said, reflecting on how he found out that he would become the youngest Welshman in history to skipper the Lions and the first since Phil Bennett led them to New Zealand in 1977.

"It was just my mum and fiancée in the house, and I casually walked to my phone and it was a missed call off 'Gats.' I thought 'crikey, here we go,' so I legged it upstairs on my own and had the conversation with him in private.

"I told my fiancée straight away. My mum was on the phone, so I wrote a text message in front of her because she was speaking to her friend, saying 'I am Lions captain, see you later. Bye'. She was just lost for words. She had to hang up on her friend and give me a hug. My twin brother and my sister, I told them last weekend, but we just kept it within the family

"I've known for nine days, and not to tell anyone (outside the family) has been very difficult. The boys at the Blues, when I have been training, were trying to catch me out all the time, but I think I did a decent job in not letting it slip. It wasn't leaked out."

The Cardiff Blues flanker, who has led Wales to a Rugby World Cup semi-final and two Six Nations title since being appointed their captain in 2011, was chosen ahead of more experienced candidates like previous Lions captains Paul O'Connell and Brian O'Driscoll and is relishing the chance to prove himself in the Lions' colours.

Wales' Lions captains

"I can't wait to do it - it's a dream come true," he added. "Ever since I was a kid, I have wanted to play for the Lions. The captaincy had never been in my mind, which is why it is such a shock, and I am so delighted. To be able to have a framed jersey above my fireplace has always been my motivation, and fingers crossed I can now manage that."

Warburton lost his Wales place and the captaincy through injury earlier this season and turned down the chance to lead his country again on his return to form and fitness in favour of concentrating on his own game. His reluctance to lead led to some to question his suitability for the Lions but it had been agreed between Warburton and Wales' interim head coach Rob Howley that his individual performance should be the priority.

"The first thing I always prioritise is performance," Warburton said. "And that was why going into the last (Six Nations) game against England it was the best decision for myself and the team not to take the captaincy because at that moment in time I had to make sure I got the performance right.

"It wasn't about lifting the trophy with Ryan and getting the plaudits again as a two-time winning Six Nations captain at a young age. That wasn't it for me. I just wanted to make sure I could play well for the team and do my role. That has always been my style."

Warburton intends make full use of the wealth of leadership experience available to him within the squad. "Playing for Wales, we have a leadership team of five or six players - guys like Alun-Wyn Jones, Jamie Roberts, Adam Jones, Gethin Jenkins, Mike Phillips - who are very influential when you are on the pitch," he added.

"Fortunately, for me, those guys are involved this time around with the Lions, and experienced guys from the other nations as well will have a similar input.

"As soon as we get together, a core leadership group will influence the way the tour goes, and those two guys (O'Connell and O'Driscoll) will have a massive part to play. It would be very silly of me to ignore two ex-Lions captains. They will be hugely-influential on this tour."

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