Inspirational Warburton roars back into Lions captaincy contention
Not only was the mouth-watering tussle between Wales and England billed as a winner-takes-all affair that would decide the Six Nations title, it was also widely acknowledged as being the biggest rehearsal yet for the many on the pitch hoping to head to Australia on Lions duty this summer.
As the two best sides in the tournament, British Lions boss Warren Gatland was always expected to name a squad largely dominated by Welsh and English faces.
Now, following the home side’s convincing win over their visitors, Gatland will feel less worried about dealing with accusations of ‘nepotism’ should the majority of his squad come from the champions.
The likes of Alun Wyn Jones, Alex Cuthbert, Paul James, Gethin Jenkins and yesterday’s Man of the Match Justin Tipuric will all feel confident of making the trip following stellar performances in the tournament.
And then there is Sam Warburton, who has endured as topsy turvy a career as one can imagine for a man still only 24 years old.
Exactly a year ago, he captained Wales to a Six Nations grand slam in a tournament that included a Man of the Match performance against England. It seemed only natural that he would be Gatland’s choice to lead the Lions in 2013.
Fast forward a year and not only had the Cardiff Blues flanker lost his armband to Ryan Jones, he’d also lost his place in the side to Tipuric as Wales recorded eight consecutive Test defeats.
Meanwhile, England’s up-and-coming skipper Chris Robshaw was installed as the new favourite to take the Lions no7 shirt, and the captaincy.
But having regained his place in the side and performed heroically in an ugly game against Scotland last week, Warburton outshone his rival Robshaw on Saturday and, despite not having yet been reinstated to skipper for his country, is now back to 7/4 fav to lead Gatland’s touring party in June.
Defeated England captain Robshaw won’t be fearing his place in the squad, but is now 4/1 third favourite to take the armband. Speculation still surrounds Brian O’Driscoll’s future, with the veteran Irish captain expected to announce his international retirement in due course, though he’ll be hoping to end his career slightly less ignominiously with the Lions following his sin-binning against Italy on Saturday.
Ireland’s greatest player could yet be given the opportunity to do just that by leading the Lions to their first victory in Australia since 1989, and is second favourite to do so, at 3/1.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.