Sam Warburton on the most difficult aspect of captaining the Lions
Sam Warburton still can't believe how it all didn't kick off more.
The Welshman led his second Lions squad during the summer tour to New Zealand and believes the Class of 2017 got on even better than 2013. That's not to say there was not the odd tense moment or scrap in training, but the men that drew the Test Series with the All Blacks clicked early and got on famously.
"Getting great players to gel together and play alongside other great players is one of the easier challenges you'll have on a Lions tour," says Warburton.
The most fraught days of the tour were often when Warren Gatland announced his team for the Test matches. The head coach was never going to please everyone and even the ones he chose to start dared not look too pleased.
"When you've got 41 guys," Warburton explains, "who are quite competitive, from four countries going into one team, there's going to be some friction there when the team is announced."
He adds, "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."
Warburton spoke extremely well about the Lions' time in New Zealand [from 21:00 below] on The Hard Yards, and offered a unique insight into the moments when Ireland flanker Sean O'Brien challenged the coaching staff about tactics and training schedules.
O'Brien believes the Lions could have beaten the All Blacks 3-0 in the Test Series [rather than draw 1-1] had they been prepared better and with different tactics. He spoke up on these matters in New Zealand and came to media attention, in October, when he made some of them public.
Warburton gives his take on O'Brien's vocal presence in the squad:
"Sean's a very good leader. I've always been impressed with Sean. I know him quite well now, from the 2013 and 2017 tours, and I thought he was one of the better guys out there. He played extremely well.
"But it's always difficult to please 41 guys on tour. You've got 40 in management as well so that's an immediate team of over 80 people. To try and keep 80 people happy is extremely difficult."
That is not to say that O'Brien was a disruptive figure within the squad. As well as being a senior member, and one that would challenge decisions, the Ireland international contributed with a number of fine performances on the field and was one of the four "characters" named by Warburton that kept spirits up.
"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 the were great for the lads to have around."
O'Brien can be seen, on the Lions Uncovered DVD, singing lustily along to 'Fields of Athenry' after the ABs were defeated in the Second Test at Wellington, but an Irish teammate takes the credit for getting the entire playing staff up to speed.
"We had a great time singing those songs... a lot of the time it was off-the-cuff and we'd start singing after we had a great win or were having a meal out. It was one of the fun parts of the tour and was a real good team bonding exercise... reluctantly, from an Irish perspective, Robbie Henshaw was picked to lead the choir [for Fields] with Greig Laidlaw doing it for Scotland and Kyle for England... Ken Owens volunteered!"