Sam Warburton will start the British & Irish Lions opening tour match against NZ Provincial Barbarians and he is determined to hit the ground running.
Four years ago the Lions captain went into the tour with an injury and once again the Cardiff Blues ace is only just returning to fitness.
Warburton has not played since picking up a knee injury in the Blues’ Guinness PRO12 draw with Ulster in April, but has been back in full training for a number of weeks.
He is one of four Welshmen in the starting line-up, which includes an all-Welsh back-row and the flanker is champing at the bit.
Warburton said: “I felt like I was chasing it four years ago, I was the last guy on the whole Tour to play a fixture so it’s nice this time to get a jersey in the kit bag and say you’ve done it.
“Four years ago I was constantly panicking about whether I was going to get a game and whether I was going to pull through.
“Everyone was playing and getting their jerseys back and you envy that so it’s really nice I can get the ball rolling and hopefully stay fit and get a good few fixtures under my belt.
Watch what Cardiff Arms Park means to Sam Warburton.
“I will need a good few games to hit my straps but we all know every game is a massive audition for the Tests so I am delighted I am involved in this first one.”
Much has been made of the Lions’ daunting tour schedule and Saturday’s encounter is their only clash against non-Super Rugby opposition outside of the Tests.
A win of any sorts will do for Warburton, who made 14 appearances for Cardiff Blues this season, and he is acutely aware that there will be some bumps and lessons to learn in the road to facing the All Blacks in the Test series.
He added: “Just win, I don’t care how we win. If we won every game 3-0 I’d bite your arm off. It’s all about winning at this level. Obviously it’s nice from a spectator’s point of view, for fans and yourselves, that it would be a great spectacle, which hopefully it is, they’re better games to play in, but I’d take a win all day long.
“There’ll be a lot of learning in the next three or four weeks. Ideally we’d love to win all those games but as long as we just get better and better after each fixture that’s the main thing.”
BRITISH & IRISH LIONS
1 Joe Marler – Harlequins, England
2 Rory Best – Ulster, Ireland, #793
3 Kyle Sinckler – Harlequins, England
4 Alun Wyn Jones – Ospreys, Wales, #761
5 Iain Henderson – Ulster, Ireland
6 Ross Moriarty – Gloucester Rugby, Wales
7 Sam Warburton – Cardiff Blues, Wales, #800
8 Taulupe Faletau – Bath Rugby, Wales, #779
9 Greig Laidlaw – Gloucester Rugby, Scotland
10 Johnny Sexton – Leinster, Ireland, #791
11 Tommy Seymour – Glasgow Warriors, Scotland
12 Ben Te’o – Worcester Warriors, England
13 Jonathan Joseph – Bath Rugby, England
14 Anthony Watson – Bath Rugby, England
15 Stuart Hogg – Glasgow Warriors, Scotland, #783
16 Jamie George – Saracens, England
17 Mako Vunipola – Saracens, England, #787
18 Tadhg Furlong – Leinster, Ireland
19 George Kruis – Saracens, England
20 Justin Tipuric – Ospreys, Wales, #786
21 Rhys Webb – Ospreys, Wales
22 Owen Farrell – Saracens, England, #780
23 Jared Payne – Ulster, Ireland
# denotes Lions number