RedHanded: Sam, it’s been a busy couple of months since your daughter was born. How has your life changed?
Sam Warburton: Excellent, really excellent. It’s been great. You have a tough day of training but you go home and see the little one and it all just lifts. I know all first-time parents say that but really it does put things into perspective and it has actually helped me enjoy my rugby more.
Well, it’s one of those where before it wasn’t so easy to get it off your mind after a bad game or a training session. But nothing clears your mind quite like looking after a baby! You go home and you are dad and when you go to training you are Sam the rugby player – the best of both worlds. I’ve really loved switching between those two modes and it helps on the pitch, if anything. My wife has been great in it all, doing the night feeds and so on, so I can rest. I then return the favour the next day. We have made a good team. Having help from a very understanding wife is a great advantage. As for the rugby, it’s an interesting time. Cardiff Blues made a great start to the Pro 12, Wales are looking at the Autumn.
Internationals and the Lions get together next year for the tour of New Zealand. Starting with Blues, what are your thoughts?
It was a very good start to the season. The recruitment side went really well and you have to say it is a strong squad. The staff and coaching team are also very good so we’re in that nice position of having things in place to build on. It is a long season, but we’ve got the foundations right. I think top six this season is an absolute minimum. We got seventh last year and top six gets into the Champions Cup and that is what we set as the absolute minimum. We don’t really say we have to finish top of the league or anything like that. We realise it is going to be a two or a three-year process so I would say top six this season and ideally top four.
With Wales, you guys have not been together since the summer tour to New Zealand, which was a tough one with two close games and a third that went awry. How do you reflect on that 3-0 series defeat and tour now?
It was my first experience of touring there. I thoroughly enjoyed it – it was an amazing place to play rugby. Everywhere we went we had support from the locals as well as the people who travelled to watch us. That is quite special when you think about it. They just love the sport. As far as the games went, well... New Zealand were just very, very good.
On another level?
We know we can compete with the best. But everyone knows how good the All Blacks are and they seem to have kicked on another level again compared to all the other teams in the world. They were just fantastic in the summer and they have carried that through to their Rugby Championship season as well (against South Africa, Australia and Argentina). It has actually been good to see their Championship results because it puts ours in perspective a bit. I think a few of us were a bit down after losing 3-0 but seeing how well they are playing in the Championship, where the level is so high, has helped. Look how they are doing against Argentina, Australia and South Africa – they have been winning games very one-sided so it gives us perspective.
Is it in the back of your mind that the next Lions tour is heading there?
As a player you desperately want to be involved with the Lions but you take nothing for granted. You don’t dare think you are in before you are. We all want to be, everyone from Britain does. But my focus is on my region, performing for the national team and then, hopefully, that gets me on the plane. Baby steps, week by week. There are just so many good players in the back row to get ahead of yourself.
“You go home and you are dad and when you go
to training you are Sam the rugby player”.
No chance of a sly word with Warren Gatland to find out his thoughts?
I wish! We hear nothing until the squad comes out on Sky Sports News, honestly. It was like this last time with him as well, in 2013. You are completely in the dark, no briefing or nothing. You are sat there with your family or whatever and watching Sky Sports News with your fingers crossed. That is why I can’t get excited about it. You mentioned 2013, when Gatland was last in charge of the Lions. Rob Howley took caretaker charge of Wales and won the Six Nations that year and he will take charge again in 2017.
What is the impact of losing Gatland, albeit temporarily?
What people don’t understand is how stable the coaching team is with Wales. So, even though Warren is gone, we have had Rob Howley, Rob McBryde, Neil Jenkins and Shaun Edwards for a long time and even if one of the five of them, including Warren, stepped out we would not be overly disrupted. Everyone knows what is going on, what are our policies and our ways of doing things. It is a very smooth transition. From the outside. I can see why people would think it is a huge loss, and it is a loss because Warren is such a good coach, but it doesn’t change the dynamic or mentality of the team.
What’s your feeling about the current squad?
Very, very good. There is a lot to feel positive about. When the squad gets together for the Autumn Internationals, I would expect to see more progress. Let’s wait and see. I will work hard to be part of it because this is an exciting time. The Wales squad has been stable for some time.
Who would you say is the best young player coming through?
That’s a good question. From a national perspective, it is such a stable squad that it has been hard for younger players in the last couple of years to burst into that starting 15. I guess the best young one, for me, is Ross Moriarty. He has been brilliant for the last year he has been involved. Now, with Toby Faletau picking up a knee injury, somebody has to step into that No8 role and Ross’s performances for Gloucester have been extremely good. He has really added something to the back row and he is different to anything we have got. He is very aggressive, very attacking, great handling skills, a ball carrier, strong in the tackle – he ticks all the boxes and he is only 22. I think he will make a big impact on the international scene. Best of luck with it.