Lions' Irvine likens Warburton to McCaw
February 26, 2012
Andy Irvine is team manager for the 2013 tour to Australia © Getty Images
British & Irish Lions manager Andy Irvine has praised Wales skipper Sam Warburton and has labelled him the "northern hemisphere's Richie McCaw".
Warburton underlined his credentials to lead the Lions in Australia next year by spearheading Wales' first Triple Crown triumph since 2008. Wales' 19-12 victory over England at Twickenham means they are in pole position to win the Six Nations title race next month, with their final two games both at home against Italy and France.
And 23-year-old Cardiff Blues flanker Warburton appears an overwhelming favourite to land one of rugby's most coveted jobs for a tour highlighted by three Tests against the Wallabies. Former Scotland full-back Irvine was at Twickenham to watch Warburton's latest back-row masterclass, and then gave his verdict on a player who confirmed current status among the top three number sevens alongside New Zealand's World Cup-winning skipper McCaw and Wallabies openside David Pocock.
"I thought Warburton was outstanding, especially for a guy who has been out injured recently," Irvine said. "He was brilliant, with his defensive work and how clever he is at the breakdown. He is the northern hemisphere's Richie McCaw."
Wales coach Warren Gatland is a clear favourite to run the Lions playing operation Down Under, but although Irvine would not comment on intense speculation surrounding the New Zealander, he left London enthused after a gripping encounter when several players put their hands up as potential Lions.
"It took a hell of a performance from Wales in the end to win it, so credit to both sides," he added. "That is a huge Welsh back division, but what I like about them is they are good rugby players. Sometimes, big men tend to be a wee bit slow, but not these guys.
"I thought George North was absolutely outstanding, he hardly made a mistake. He has got movement and a lot of class, and at the other end of the spectrum Leigh Halfpenny was a revelation. He makes a lot of the right decisions, he's quick and is a good all-round rugby player.
"It was a huge physical contest, the collisions were really intense."
Irvine also had praise for England, who suffered a first defeat under interim head coach Stuart Lancaster, but took World Cup semi-finalists Wales to the wire before substitute Scott Williams' breakaway try broke them.
"I am delighted with the way England stood up," Irvine said. "They lost, but it was by far the best they've played in the tournament. It is good for the Lions when you see a game of that calibre.
"Two or three of them really put their hand up, which was great to see. Owen Farrell showed a lot of maturity, and he can be very pleased with his performance. In fairness to Stuart Lancaster, he has done a super job."
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