Sam Warburton reflects on the 'incredible privilege' of pulling on Lions jersey ahead of 2021 tour

  • Video report by Beth Fisher

Sam Warburton, the former Wales and British and Irish Lions captain, has spoken of the "incredible privilege" he felt pulling on the iconic jersey ahead of this year's tour.  

Speaking to ITV Cymru Wales' Beth Fisher, Warburton said he was feeling excited for the current crop of players gearing up for the "special" British and Irish Lions tour.

Warburton took the decision to retire in 2018 at the age of 29, citing his "health and wellbeing" as the decision. He admitted his body was unable no longer cope with the pressures of professional rugby.

"I think people might be like, 'Oh does it make you want to go back and play?'. It doesn't make me want to go back and play, I know I couldn't do that anymore," Warburton said.

"It just builds up the excitement you know, knowing that the guys are going to be slipping on this shirt in a couple of months' time and I'm excited for them, for what they're going to go through.

"Particularly the new guys who haven't experienced that before, it's such a special thing to do so I'm genuinely excited for them."

British and Irish Lions captain Sam Warburton pictured in 2013 ahead of their test with Australia Credit: PA Images

The British and Irish Lions camp holds a treasured place amongst Warburton's sporting memories.

He became the youngest ever captain to lead out a Lions team in 2013, and in 2017 on the New Zealand tour, he played his last ever game as a professional.

"First time I put the polo shirt on and you look down at the badge, at the crest...You grow up and these guys you put up on a pedestal as icons," he said.

"And suddenly you're there wearing it, and you'd like to think that you're inspiring a next generation as well to want to play for the Lions.

"Even now I still find it, like my mates will say to me now, 'Oh my god, you've captained the Lions twice', I'm like, 'I know, it's crazy', you know?

"So even now it hasn't sunk in, so yeah it's just an incredible privilege to put on the crest."

British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland is due to announce his squad next week, who does Warburton tip to shine if given the nod? Credit: PA Images

Warren Gatland, the British and Irish Lions head coach, is due to announce who has been chosen to make the squad next week.

But who does Warburton tip to have a big influence if given a seat on the plane?

"Tomos Williams has got so much X-factor at 9," Warburton said.

"A lot of people don't know much about him because he was injured in the Six Nations, didn't have the typical shop window that everyone else would normally have.

"But he is X-factor that boy.

"And Dan Biggar has been playing brilliantly - three Six Nations titles under his name, a quarter final, semi final of the World Cup, a Lions tour that he was brilliant on, a Pro-14 title playing well for Northampton, great defensively, amazing goal-kicker, so I think right now he just edges it as front-runner."

Warburton tipped scrum half Tomos Williams to be a key player in the squad, saying he had "so much X-factor" Credit: PA Images

The Lions face Japan on 26 June and take on South Africa for the first test on 24 July.

Warburton predicts it could be a positive campaign for the Lions but is mainly just relieved to see the event taking place at all.

He said: "I'm just so glad it's going ahead.

"We've all had the give and take over the last 12 months in certain aspects of life.

"But I know there will be fans, and I think rugby needs this Lions tour financially, South Africa need it financially, badly, so I'm so glad for rugby it's gone ahead otherwise we could've been in a really difficult situation.

"But I think it will be a two-one series win to the Lions."