Wales interim head coach Rob Howley unveiled his Six Nations squad last week, with the biggest talking point being the replacement of Sam Warburton as captain.
In an expected move, Alun Wyn Jones has been named as the flanker’s successor for the forthcoming championships. The 31-year-old second row forward is a battle hardened leader and the only obvious choice.
Now, as the dust has settled, Warburton has given his first interview and speaking to WalesOnline, he reveals his feelings on the transition of power and his motivation behind the decision.
When asked if not being captain is a strange feeling, the 28-year-old revealed,
“No, there’s a lot of excitement in the camp for the forthcoming Six Nations.
“With the decision on the captaincy it’s something I’ve known about for a while. I’ve spoken about it to Rob. We had a leadership group meeting this morning (Monday) so not too much has changed.”
Relative to his own high standards, Warburton has not been at his very best over the last 12 months. With the British and Irish Lions set to tour New Zealand in summer, the chance of pulling on the famous touring red shirt is a huge personal motivation for all home nation players, regardless of their nationality.
For Warburton, relinquishing the captaincy affords him to chance to be a little more selfish,
“I am at age and stage of my career where I know what I have got to do to play well.
“That was the main priority, to focus on what I want to get out of the game and play the best rugby I possibly can.
“Not having the captaincy allows me to have a little bit more freedom. That is why I have made that decision (not to be skipper in certain games) in the past as well.
“I found it to be a relatively easy decision because captaincy has never been the motivation for me. The motivation has always been to play No.7 for Wales and for the Lions.”
A proud Welshman, captaining his national side has clearly been a defining period for Warburton. Having led Wales to World Cup semi-finals and Six Nations glory, he knows what it takes to be captain and he believes the selection of Wyn Jones as his successor is the right choice.
“Alun Wyn is a vastly experienced player and he has more experience than me at international level. He knows I’m there for him whenever he wants but he’s seen and done pretty much everything in this game.
“That’s what makes him such a great candidate to be captain for this campaign. Your captain has got to be somebody who is guaranteed to start or is near guaranteed.
“That someone has to be is respected by all the players, a very good professional on and off the field. That is why I think Alun Wyn Jones is a standout candidate, because he has had that in bucketloads.”
Now free to focus on nailing down his place in the match day 23 for next months Six Nations opener against Italy on February 5th, Warburton will be keen to prove to himself, Howley and Lions coach Warren Gatland that he is still a force within world rugby.
Having never really gone away, the Six Nations will now give him the chance to let his rugby do the talking.
Gary Brennan, Pundit Arena
In this week’s edition of The Oval Office Podcast, we speak to the Pro12 Communications Director Adam Redmond, who outlines how the league will evolve in the coming seasons.