Treat it like a decider – Warburton


Published: Thursday 5th February 2015 by The News Editor

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Sam Warburton will demand that Wales roar into Friday night’s blockbusting RBS 6 Nations opener against England with the same intensity and passion they delivered in devastating fashion two years ago.

On that occasion, Six Nations title and Grand Slam-seeking England were ruthlessly dismantled and scattered to all parts of the Millennium Stadium.

Wales’ record 30-3 victory saw them rip Six Nations silverware from England’s grasp and take a third championship crown of Warren Gatland’s coaching reign.

While Wales and England will kick off the tournament this time around rather than provide its finale, Warburton wants the same approach from a team that includes 11 players who started in 2013.

“Two years ago, the fact we came out with such intensity was because it was a must-win game – the last of the championship – and we only had one opportunity to win by eight points or more to take the championship,” said Wales skipper Warburton, who is poised for his 50th cap.

“We have to treat this game with the same attitude as two years ago. It is a must-win fixture and it is that important.

“If we lose this one, we have three away games out of four to come and it is all uphill from there and extremely tough. It is important to win your home games.”

Both teams arrive in the Six Nations following impressive autumn finales earlier this season that saw Wales sink South Africa and England topple Australia.

England, though, were subsequently rocked by a succession of injury blows, which has denied them key personnel like Manu Tuilagi, Courtney Lawes, Tom Wood and Ben Morgan.

There are only five members of the starting XV two years ago who return, while three other players – wing Anthony Watson, centre Jonathan Joseph and lock George Kruis – will make their Six Nations debuts.

Wales, in contrast, have no major injury problems, and their pack alone contains more combined Test match appearances than the entire England team.

“It feels a lot nicer coming in with a win under our belt. It does feel better for momentum,” Warburton added.

“We have trained hard, and as we realised in the autumn, when you train hard and put the hours in with the fitness staff, the altitude chamber and the cryotherapy and all that, we do get rewards for it. Hard work is our mantra.

“Some players might gain confidence out of beating (England), but in the last three years England and Wales have beaten each other home and away.

“It never feels as if there is more than a try in it either way, and we have been pretty evenly matched. They have won and lost at the Millennium Stadium, as we have at Twickenham.

“They have always been tight battles, and there may be a try in it on Friday night.”

The back-row battle – Warburton, Dan Lydiate and Taulupe Faletau against Chris Robshaw, James Haskell and Billy Vunipola – will be a key ingredient in Friday’s contest, while England’s hopes also promise to rest heavily on Bath fly-half George Ford, both as tactical controller and goalkicker.

“The first thing I thought when I saw their pack was that it was really strong,” Warburton said.

“The back row is big and it has a nice balance. They cover all the bases – they have line-out options, they have ball-carriers, guys on the floor and they are all playing well in Europe and in the Premiership. You never play against a poor England back row.

“I have met George Ford and watched him play. He is a massive talent, very good in attack and still very young. He is a very intelligent player with his kicking game, and he will go extremely well in an England jersey.”

For Warburton, Friday’s clash is given added significance by the half-century landmark he will reach, and he also goes into battle buoyed by Wales assistant coach Rob Howley’s assertion this week that “when Sam Warburton plays well, Wales play well”.

Warburton added: “It’s a nice compliment. I always prepare myself to play well in every game.

“Individual battles are so important in international rugby, more so than club, and I have put a lot of pressure on myself this week to play well again.

“It is a nice landmark to reach 50 caps. I was hoping to achieve it in the autumn last year, and that would have been the case if I was involved in all four games.

“Then I was told I was not playing against Fiji, and I knew I would have to wait a little bit longer. A month went by and I saw the Six Nations fixtures, with England first, and I thought ‘wow’.

“If I stayed fit, played well and got selected you probably could not get a better fixture.”

Published: Thursday 5th February 2015 by The News Editor

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