Six Nations
Wales captain Sam Warburton won't get complacent
PA Sport
February 20, 2016
Wales captain Sam Warburton
Wales captain Sam Warburton© Stu Forster/Getty Images

Sam Warburton has captained Wales more times than any other player and led the British & Irish Lions on a Test series-winning tour -- but complacency remains totally off his agenda.

Wales' enviable back-row resources are such that even a player of Warburton's quality and standing in the game cannot be guaranteed a starting place.

And that is exactly how the 27-year-old likes it, with Wales head coach Warren Gatland currently contemplating his back-row combination for next Friday's RBS 6 Nations clash against France in Cardiff.

The smart money is on Warburton reverting to his more familiar openside flanker role after two Six Nations starts in Wales' number six shirt this season, with his fellow Test match Lion Dan Lydiate returning as blindside and Justin Tipuric dropping to bench duty.

Warburton, though, bridles at any suggestion that as skipper he should be an automatic choice.

"I do not want to fall into the trap of becoming complacent," he said. "I said to Warren four or five years ago that my one problem with being captain is not being complacent, meaning you are going to play every game.

"He knows that, and I know that if I was under par and 'Gats' thought I was not the right man to start, he would not pick me.

"I want to go into team meetings and selection not knowing if I am going to be starting for sure. I like to be treated the same as all the other players.

"If I get given the captaincy, I will do it, but in between international campaigns I do not see myself as the captain. I like that news to be broken so I feel I have earned it rather than being a given."

Critics of Gatland's current back-row selection point to Wales having claimed just two possession turnovers across both games, although Warburton rejects any assumption that him playing at blindside rather than openside is a factor.

"It [winning turnover ball] is something we have identified," he added. "We need to get more of it, and we have worked on that.

"One thing which is difficult at the moment is referees are really hot on guys competing on the floor for the ball. On two occasions, I have gone for the ball on the floor and been told I put my hands past it and been penalised.

"They have been tough calls, and it puts you off competing for the ball on the floor. I am trying to work out ways of how I can get turnovers, and the next couple of games -- if I am picked -- I am going to go a lot harder on the floor than I have done in the past few games and go back to what I am really good at and what has worked in the last few years.

"I know there is certain work that has to be done if you play number six [blindside]. You can't defend as wide. Normally, you like to get on the number 10 and try to get into a wider channel where there is more chance of a turnover.

"I know the dirty work has to be done, defending driving mauls the way we defend, and that takes it out of your legs when you go into phase play and try and get a turnover.

"I have the same mindset and look for turnovers, but I know I have to do certain work, otherwise as a team we are not going to be where we should be. Playing seven gives you a slightly freer role in phase play where you can put yourself in a position to win a turnover."

Attention now turns to France, opponents Wales have not lost against since the 2011 World Cup semi-final in New Zealand when Warburton was sent off, winning four games on the bounce.

And after a draw with Ireland, then beating Scotland, Wales know that victories in their remaining three matches -- France, England away and Italy at home -- will secure a fourth Six Nations title of Gatland's eight-year reign.

"If we win our next three games, we will regain the championship. That is the positive way of looking at it," Warburton said. "As long as we do not lose a game, we do not have to rely on points difference. We are still in the mix, and if someone had said we would have been in the race for the championship after two rounds, that would have been good news.

"I have played France for the last five or six years in a row, and I have never found them easy. Even though we have quite a good record against them in the Six Nations, it has always been a very tough set-piece battle, very physical, and they have individuals with a massive amount of skill and ability.

"There is not a French team I have ever written off, and I always rate them very highly."

© PA Sport

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