Warburton happy to play 'anywhere'
January 23, 2013
Wales skipper Sam Warburton on narrow margins and big consequences%]
Wales captain Sam Warburton has played down the significance of possible positional switch by insisting he is 'happy to play anywhere'.
Warburton has been a near-permanent fixture at No.7 since emerging onto the international stage just over three years ago and memorably steered Wales to the 2011 Rugby World Cup semi-finals and the 2012 Six Nations Grand Slam from the openside berth. But the outstanding form of Ospreys flanker Justin Tipuric and an injury to Dragons blindside Dan Lydiate could prompt a shake-up of the Wales back-row.
"I would be more than happy to play anywhere in the back-row for Wales," said Warburton ahead of the start of his side's title defence against Ireland in Cardiff on February 2. "There's been moments in a game where I've covered 6 and 8 already and when I was first getting involved I played at 6 alongside Martyn Williams.
"We have some players who are very versatile. Aaron Shingler has moved across the back-row, so has Josh Turnbull, Toby Faletau has had a game at No.7. Back-row is one of the areas where players are quite transferable but I guess it depends on who else you are playing against and the overall balance."
Interim head coach Rob Howley is also keeping an open mind. "We're keeping our options open," he said. "It depends on who you are playing against and the type of game you want to play. In our 7s and 6s we have that flexibility but we also need that balance between ball carrying and good players over the ball and the contact area is such an important part of the game."
Lydiate's chances of repeating the heroics that saw him voted the Player of the Championship last year appear remote. He is battling back from a broken ankle suffered on PRO12 duty earlier this season and while he is making significant progress and hopes to be back playing before the end of the Six Nations, Howley is unlikely to risk him.
Wales skipper Sam Warburton and Rob Howley look focused ahead of the Six Nations © Getty Images
"At this moment in time, Dan is looking to probably be available towards the latter end of the Championship," said Howley. "He is ahead of schedule but we are mindful of the workload as he has been away from rugby for some time. We will take that decision when we need to but we feel we have some strength in depth in the back row to select from and that will be key in whether Dan comes back. Player welfare is so important and we need to look after Dan and not put him in for the sake of putting him in. But if he's right both physically and mentally and he is available, then he will come into our selection."
One player more likely to feature in Wales' defence of the northern hemisphere crown is Ospreys winger Eli Walker - one of the rising stars of the Welsh game who was promoted into their Six Nations squad on the back of a series of outstanding displays for his region.
"Over the last two years we have given young talent the opportunity which you can see with the likes of Leigh Halfpenny and George North to name just two," said Howley. "Eli Walker is an extremely gifted player with an ability to beat players on the inside and the outside. Many people will mention that he is Shane Williams-esque. He is comfortable on the ball, he's comfortable beating players and he's got that innate ability to turn up at the right place at the right time."
Only time will tell if he manages to usurp the likes of George North and Alex Cuthbert but Howley is certainly glad of the competition he provides. "Alex and George are two physical specimens and Eli offers something different which is nice to have and it is nice to have that selection decision - the physicality versus the fleet-footed Eli - and I'm sure he will contribute greatly to the squad.
"In his performances against Leicester and Toulouse this season, against international players, he was at the forefront, involved and had lots of touches of the ball and I'm looking forward to working with him. Competition for places is key to our backline. Last year we went through the Six Nations without any injuries and we picked the same backline week in, week out. That's the nature of the Six Nations, sometimes luck is on your side and sometime it isn't."
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.