Lions 2013: Test rivals will push me harder - Sam Warburton

By Bryn PalmerBBC Sport in Brisbane
Lions 2013: Sam Warburton relishing Lions captaincy

Captain Sam Warburton says he will thrive on the pressure of matching his Test rivals when he makes his British & Irish Lions debut on Saturday.

The Welshman has seen compatriot Justin Tipuric and Irishman Sean O'Brien both excel at open-side flanker in the first two games of the tour.

Warburton has recovered from a knee injury to play against Queensland Reds.

"Justin's been playing well for the last few years so I have been in this situation before with Wales," he said.

"I thought Sean had a great game [in the 69-17 win over Western Force] as well, and Jamie Heaslip stood out as well.

"All the back-rowers have done very well, which I am sure makes selection very tough. Those Test spots are what everyone is playing for, at the end of the day.

"It is great they have played so well because it pushes you even harder."

Warburton, 24, believes making the Lions squad in such a competitive area was an achievement, given that the likes of England captain Chris Robshaw and Scotland skipper Kelly Brown missed the cut.

He will line up alongside his regular Wales team-mates Dan Lydiate and Toby Faletau at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium, but admits he would be just as happy working with more unfamiliar team-mates.

"All seven back-rowers are top-class operators," he added. "I have obviously played with the Welsh boys before but I hope I get the opportunity to play with all the other players as well.

"I have always found Sean [O'Brien] a tough opponent to play against so I look forward to teaming up over some of these games."

However, despite being made captain, Warburton will not be taking his place in the back row for future games for granted.

"I definitely have to fight as hard as anyone," he continued. "I was honest with [Lions head coach] Warren Gatland and said what I don't like about captaincy is you don't want to become complacent and know you've got a starting place.

"I like going to team meetings when they announce the squad to the boys. You want to have a surprise like everyone else and not know whether you are picked and go to bed the night before wondering if you are going to play.

"I like those feelings. Those feelings are what drive you in training to be a better player. I would never be complacent, ever."

Despite a frustrating period when he was ordered to stay off his feet for five days to allow a medial ligament problem to heal, Warburton is revelling in the experience of his first Lions tour.

"Since we got together as a squad it has been amazing," Warburton said. "It has been the best three weeks of my rugby career.

"I have absolutely loved it, even though I haven't played. It still feels pretty special going to games and mixing with the spectators, and going to the gym with the other boys.

"I haven't felt left out at all.

"Everyone has had a start, everyone feels a part of it, and I have got my chance on Saturday. I have been thinking about this game for quite a while now. I am absolutely desperate to get on the pitch."

After two relatively stress-free outings against the Barbarians and Western Force in which the Lions have scored 17 tries, they are likely to find the Reds - even without six players away with the Wallabies - a much stiffer proposition in front of a near sell-out 53,000 crowd.

Fly-half Quade Cooper, seeking a return to the Australia squad for the Lions series, is one of nine capped players in the hosts' side.

"Quade is a great player with outstanding footwork, and I am sure he will pose a different threat to anything we have faced so far," Warburton added.

"We want those patches when we have to defend down on our own line like we had against the Force.

"He will definitely be an attacking threat and that is what we want now.

"We want to test out our defensive system properly before we get to the Test matches."

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