Sam Warburton: Retiring flanker among top three Lions captains, says Sir Ian McGeechan

Sam Warburton
Sam Warburton became only the second player, after Martin Johnson, to captain the Lions in two Test series

Sam Warburton was one of the best British and Irish Lions captains of all time, Sir Ian McGeechan says.

Former Wales captain Warburton, who led the Lions in 2013 and 2017, announced his shock retirement on Wednesday.

The 29-year-old has not played since guiding the Lions to a drawn series against New Zealand in 2017.

"I would put Sam in the group of the top two or three captains that have led the Lions," former Lions coach McGeechan told BBC Radio 5 live.

"There was an edge to his game; he was a real Test match animal. You would want to go on the field and play for him."

Warburton became only the second player, after Englishman Martin Johnson, to captain the Lions in two Test series.

"He's up there with Johnson, Willie John McBride and Paul O'Connell," added McGeechan.

"He was a young captain in 2013 and benefited from O'Connell being on that tour alongside him, but to have two successful tours shows the power of his leadership, his thinking and his ability to take player to the right places on the field at the right time."

Warburton had recently returned to Cardiff Blues training after being sidelined for the 2017-18 season by knee and neck surgery.

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Sam Warburton: The best bits

But in announcing his retirement, the back-rower said his body was "unable to give me back what I had hoped for on my return to training".

McGeechan - who was in charge of four Lions tours, the most recent in 2009 - is concerned about the workload on professional players.

"The powers that be have got to be very careful about the numbers of games played and what the global season actually looks like," he added.

"After 20-odd years, the professional game is at a completely new level mentally and physically. It highlights how careful we have to be with our assets and somebody like Sam, who has been a tremendous player and captain for both Wales and the Lions.

"It's a great sadness to think we won't see him on a rugby field again, but he should be very proud of what he's achieved. He's a big loss to Wales."

'Careers may well end up being shorter'

Warburton's former Wales and Cardiff Blue team-mate Martyn Williams believes more players may see their careers cut short by injury.

"The physical toll the players put themselves through now and how intense the training session are, careers may well end up being shorter," he told BBC Radio 5 live.

"It's always been a fight for Sam to keep weight on and be a big man like he is. Naturally he is quite a few kilograms over his natural body weight.

"That's why he's picked up all these injuries. Those sorts of players will never have a very long career.

"It's also dependent on luck of the draw in terms of injuries and the way he played the game, but when you're five or six kilograms over your natural body weight it does put a lot of stress and strain on your joints."

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