Sam Warburton Will Make First Tour Match, Insists Lions Coach

The Lions insist Sam Warburton will be fit for the opening match of their New Zealand tour – despite uncertainty over whether or not he will play for Cardiff Blues beforehand.

Warburton has not played since suffering a knee injury on April 7, but Lions assistant coach Graham Rowntree said on Monday evening that the tour captain would definitely be ready to face New Zealand Provincial Barbarians on June 3.

Rowntree was less certain, however, over the issue of the skipper’s return for the Cardiff Blues.

The Blues play Stade Francais in Paris on Friday night in a European Champions Cup play-off match and coach Warren Gatland has already claimed he wants to flanker to keep his powder dry.

Rowntree said: “Sam is on a modified load. He didn’t train with the rest of the team today, he’s on a modified load, as you would expect for a guy coming back from injury, but he is going to be fine.

“The (Blues v Stade) game is a bigger picture decision for Sam and the Blues and Warren. He may train with us tomorrow. You will have to ask Sam and Warren that question.

“But he looked pretty fit to me this morning. I don’t think there will be any trouble with him playing, certainly, the first game on tour, but as I keep saying, we are managing him coming back from injury.”

Only 14 players turned up for the Lions’ first training in Cardiff on Monday with 27 of the squad still on duty with their clubs ahead of various play-off matches this weekend.

But Rowntree insists the number of absentees was always a known factor for the Lions management and they still view the four-day camp as vital to their preparations.

The 14 players are all likely to start for the tour opener, with some of the missing 27 unlikely to train much with the rest before they fly out to New Zealand.

Rowntree added: “Other guys are away in other competitions, which is great, because we want them on the plane going to New Zealand battle-hardened, playing in finals, preferably.

“There was some fitness this morning, then we’ve had a good hit-out this afternoon.

“It has been very useful to get our calls and systems up and running. The lads have got whole of things very quickly.

“It was always going to be this. We knew we would be missing a few guys in camp one. We knew what was coming, and we have catered for that.

“We have got some meaningful sessions done. We’ve got on with stuff.

“We’ve been getting the guys used to an intensity of how we train. Against the All Blacks, the ball is on the field for a long time, so we trained them hard with that in mind.

“It’s about getting them used to all our systems, from line-out calls to phase plays to how we defend, just getting everyone on the same page. So far, they’ve done really well.”

Rowntree also revealed he believes Alun Wyn Jones will make his comeback from a shoulder injury for the Ospreys against Munster on Saturday.

Jones has not played since March 18 – for Wales against France in the Six Nations – but Rowntree added: “The intell I have got on Alun Wyn is he is fit and training with his club. Again, he will be fit and raring to go on tour.

“You don’t need your full quota to get your systems up and running.

“For me, those guys getting on the plane after playing in European finals, Premiership finals, they are battle-hardened. That’s great. We want that intensity.

“Saracens were impressive (on Saturday). Back to back European champions is special for any player. All our guys had big games.

“It was a game of proper intensity. We want our guys playing in those games, leading into a New Zealand tour, so well done to them.

“They (NZ) are a difficult team. The ball is on the field for a long time. Defence is going to be massive for us. But we have to play as well, we have to challenge them.”

 

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