Six Nations: Wales captain Sam Warburton impresses Lions chief Andy Irvine
Last updated on .From the section Rugby Union
British and Irish Lions manager Andy Irvine believes Wales captain Sam Warburton is now as good as New Zealand open-side great Richie McCaw.
The 23-year-old Cardiff Blues flanker was named man-of-the-match as Wales beat England 19-12 at Twickenham to claim the Triple Crown.
"He was brilliant, with his defensive work and how clever he is at the breakdown," Irvine said.
"He is the northern hemisphere's Richie McCaw."
Irvine believes Warburton has confirmed his status among the top three number sevens alongside the All Blacks' World Cup-winning skipper McCaw and Australia rival David Pocock.
McCaw was the International Rugby Board player of the year in 2006, 2009 and 2010. He has played more than 100 times for the All Blacks.
Warburton, meanwhile, underlined his credentials to lead the Lions in Australia next year by spearheading Wales' third win at Twickenham in 24 years.
The victory means they are in pole position to win the Six Nations title next month, with their final two games both at home against Italy and France.
There is also every chance of adding an 11th Grand Slam, with Wales' last one coming in 2008 under current coach Warren Gatland.
Gatland is favourite to be named Lions head coach down under but, although Irvine would not comment on the speculation surrounding the New Zealander, he left London enthused by a full-blooded Six Nations encounter.
And there were other players on show who Irvine hinted could be Lions starters on current form, including Wales wing George North, full-back Leigh Halfpenny and England's rookie fly-half or centre Owen Farrell.
"I thought Warburton was outstanding, especially for a guy who has been out injured recently," Irvine added.
"It took a hell of a performance from Wales in the end to win it, so credit to both sides.
"That is a huge Welsh back division, but what I like about them is they are good rugby players. Sometimes, big men tend to be a wee bit slow, but not these guys.
"I thought George North was absolutely outstanding, he hardly made a mistake. He has got movement and a lot of class, and at the other end of the spectrum Leigh Halfpenny was a revelation.
"He makes a lot of the right decisions, he's quick and is a good all-round rugby player.
"It was a huge physical contest, the collisions were really intense."
Irvine also had praise for England, who suffered a first defeat under caretaker head coach Stuart Lancaster, but took World Cup semi-finalists Wales to the wire before replacement centre Scott Williams' breakaway try broke them.
"I am delighted with the way England stood up," Irvine said. "They lost, but it was by far the best they've played in the tournament. It is good for the Lions when you see a game of that calibre.
"Two or three of them really put their hand up, which was great to see. Owen Farrell showed a lot of maturity and he can be very pleased with his performance.
"In fairness to Stuart Lancaster, he has done a super job."