Sam Warburton on his Lions relationship with three English "characters"
Few could have predicted, this summer, that Peter O'Mahony would not only beat Sam Warburton to a starting Lions jersey but that he would also be named captain against the All Blacks.
That was how it transpired for the First Test against New Zealand at Eden Park.
Warburton had a very good Six Nations but O'Mahony finished the championship in roaring form and finished the season well. The Welsh flanker, meanwhile, was recovering from a knee injury that hampered his preparations.
When O'Mahony followed up a cracking game against Crusaders by leading the Lions to victory over the New Zealand Maori, he had done all he can to shove the selection needle in his direction. So it played out ahead of that pulsating game at Eden Park but that was only the beginning.
Warburton kindly stepped out of an appearance at hmv Cardiff, for the official launch of Lions Uncovered, to talk with The Hard Yards about his experiences on that Lions Tour. He spoke candidly about his relationship with teammate, and captaincy rival, O'Mahony and a couple of English "characters" on tour.
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"There are a few guys that come out on the DVD as pretty funny," Warburton tells us, "and I'm glad that they got some time to get their personality across as they were great for the boys in the environment. You need those characters in teams, particularly when you are on long tours...
"Joe Marler, Mako Vunipola and Sean O'Brien, who I obviously knew from the 2013 Tour [to Australia]. Kyle Sinckler too... I'd never really met most those guys properly before but they were great for the lads to have around."
Warburton's relationship with O'Mahony was certainly amicable but there was an edge to their training sessions when they were in opposing packs. "Five minutes after [training], the boys are all laughing and joking about it," he says. "I think that's quite normal in rugby... What I've realised from international camps and Lions tours is the training session right after the team announcement is often the most competitive and hostile sessions you are going to get."
We can only imagine the sheer intensity in those final, full sessions after the Test teams were announced. Warburton adds:
"I would have looked for Pete straight away after the [First Test] selection, to congratulate him. But Pete never needed my advice. He's one of the most senior players in the squad. You help him out in whatever way you can but he knew exactly what he was doing.
"He knew why he had been selected for that Test - he's a great leader, very experienced and he has the respect of all the boys."
Warburton says the players selected to start will know how much those not fortunate enough will be hurting and there is no need for any patronising comments. Everyone was aware that they had a job to focus on and that was toppling the All Blacks.
In return, O'Mahony was one of the first men up to extend his congratulations to the Welshman when he got the starting, and captaincy nod, for the remaining Tests in that drawn series. "Pretty much everyone came up and said, 'Anything I can do to help, just let me know'," Warburton recalls.