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Warburton raring to go ahead of Highlanders clash

12th June 2017

Sam Warburton is raring to go ahead of the British and Irish Lions' clash against Highlanders at Dunedin on Tuesday.

Warburton suffered a minor ankle injury against New Zealand Provincial Barbarians, ruling him out of the recent games against Blues and Crusaders.

It was the Lions captain’s comeback after he recovered from a knee injury, which he sustained while playing for Cardiff Blues against Ulster in April.

Now the back row admits that game time is key for him in the lead up to the first test, as the selectors and players turn one eye towards the opening clash against All Blacks.

“It wasn’t that bad an injury, but it just meant I couldn’t take any part in getting ready for the Blues game. We thought it would be better to be safe rather than sorry and have an extra couple of days to make sure it was absolutely right for the Highlanders,” said Warburton.

“If I’d been on the bench for the Crusaders it could potentially have ruled me out of this game.

“I’m just desperate to get some minutes under my belt. I know when I do I’ll be absolutely fine, so I’m delighted to be getting this start.

“I think I pretty much knew Friday I had a good crack at playing against the Highlanders. I knew straight away it wasn’t going to be anything serious.

“I probably only missed one or two sessions. I was still doing some running with the physios, so my preparation hasn’t really changed a whole lot. 

“I knew I wasn’t going to start the Crusaders game because Sean and Peter were going to start that one and I was hoping to get involved in this game. So not much has changed really.

Warburton added: “I’ve always said I think I need a couple of games to get up and running, so I’ll definitely be better on Tuesday and better for the first two hit-outs. So I’m looking forward to getting a bit more game time under my belt and fine tuning a few things.

“Now we’ve all had a game, it feels more like audition time for the Test series because everybody has got that game under their belt. You know they’re going to start putting their Test team together pretty soon.”

“I definitely need more games. I admit that and I knew that coming into the tour. I’ve learned from experience that it takes me at least two games and then the third game I’ll probably be playing some good rugby, but Gats knew that.

“I see it as tour captain and if I make the Test then that would be a bonus for me. But I’ve said there’s three Tests to try and get selected for so it’s not the be all and end all with the first one.

“I’ll be honest with Gats and he will be perfectly honest with me. If I play Tuesday and I still feel like I’m a bit undercut, then I might not be ready for that first Test.

“Maybe that would be the situation, or maybe I could have a blinder on Tuesday and feel absolutely fine. You have to see how it goes really.”

The Lions have won two out of their first three tour matches, beating Provincial Barbarians and Crusaders but narrowly losing to Tana Umaga’s Blues.

Warburton believes progression in the team’s performances are on track, and admits he is desperate for a win to maintain the momentum in what will be a tough encounter on Tuesday.

“We’re so desperate to have a good tour. We’re only a fraction away from being three out of three, so players are really happy with the way the tour is progressing and how we’re developing as a team.

“Personally I’m desperate to get another win and kick on again and hopefully this confidence will grow.

“The Highlanders are missing nine guys, but I remember Wales’ tour last year we played the Chiefs and even when they were depleted that was still an extremely tough side. We still expect the Highlanders to be as tough as any other side we’ll face on this tour.

“But I’d expect us to move on again, keep nudging forward each game now.

“I played there last year with Wales and it’s a great ground to play in. I’m sure it’s going to be perhaps a bit quicker a bit more ball in play and a few more points scored I’m sure.”