Sam Warburton focusing on Wales, not the Lions
10:30pm Tuesday 19th February 2013 in Sport
SAM Warburton has vowed to “bat off” British and Irish Lions business to concentrate on helping Wales stay in RBS 6 Nations title contention.
Last season’s Grand Slam captain is on bench duty when Wales tackle Italy in Rome on Saturday.
A shoulder injury sidelined him for the 16-6 victory over France 10 days ago, with Wales’ interim head coach Rob Howley then announcing an unchanged team for Italy less than 72 hours later, which was confirmed yesterday.
Warburton’s absence from the starting XV led some pundits to suggest his chances of making the Lions’ Australia tour later this year have been dented.
But the 24-year-old will not allow himself to be distracted by any Lions matters, especially during a Six Nations campaign.
“It’s something I will just have to bat off,” he said. “I have got enough on my plate at the moment.
“It (Lions selection) is going to be, for any player involved, a special mom-ent. But no-one is mentioning the ‘L word’.
“The focus in this Six Nations camp is purely on the next match, and if there was any talk on that (Lions), players would be the first ones to give someone a slap in the face.”
Had Warburton been fit then he would have started at Stade de France, although probably in an unfamiliar number six shirt alongside Justin Tipuric and number eight Toby Faletau. But he missed out, with Wales’ back-row positions now filled by Tipuric, Faletau and Ryan Jones, who took over from Warburton as skipper in Paris.
Warburton, though, has praised Howley’s decision to name the team early for Rome. “It was a great win out in France – I thought the team were absolutely awesome,” he added.
“And I thought it was good when they announc-ed the team early because it has given us extra time to prepare. It was quite a smart call and we might as well take advantage of this two-week break in Six Nations games. We have had eight or ten sessions, rather than maybe three.
“It should be one of the best-prepared we have been for a match because we have had that extra time together.”
Italy captain Sergio Parisse, meanwhile, looks set to miss the Wales encounter after he was sent off for allegedly insulting referee Laurent Cardona during a Top 14 game between Stade Francais and Bordeaux-Begles four days ago.
Stade star Parisse has denied any wrong-doing, but an anticipated minimum ban of six weeks would rule him out of Italy’s remaining Six Nations appointments this season with Wales, England and Ireland.
The 29-year-old will now face French league disciplinary chiefs, probably today.