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Sam Warburton names Lions team he would pick after 2023 Six Nations

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Two-time British and Irish Lions tour skipper Sam Warburton has named the first Test team he would pick if a Lions tour was taking place this summer. The famed tourists, whom he led to a series victory in Australia in 2013 and a drawn series in New Zealand in 2017, aren’t scheduled to play again until the 2025 trip to take on Eddie Jones’ Wallabies.


In the meantime, Warburton has had a bit of fun with RugbyPass in a Rugby World Cup year, naming the Lions Test team he would pick on the back of what has recently unfolded in the Guinness Six Nations. Now working as a TV pundit and as an Asahi Super Dry ambassador, the former Wales back-rower had already named his team of the Six Nations tournament for the BCC.

That XV contained seven players from the title-winning Ireland, including veteran out-half Johnny Sexton due to what the risk-averse Warburton described as his fewer errors style of play, and the selection was completed by four Frenchmen (Damien Penaud, Gael Fickou, Antoine Dupont and Thibaud Flament), three Scots and an Italian (Sebastian Negri).

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However, who would Warburton stitch into a Lions Test XV if he had to replace the five players named from France and Italy, the two mainland European countries not involved in the Lions?

“I’d replace Flament with (Ollie) Chessum. I was really impressed with Chessum. Six, I’d probably think of someone who didn’t actually play. England missed (Courtney) Lawes big time and (Tom) Curry. I’m going to go with Lawes there. I’d make him fit for the summer. That is the caveat.”


The other caveat would be that the youthful Chessum wouldn’t be available as his recent training ground ankle dislocation will sideline him for between five and six months. Nevertheless, Warburton insisted the breakthrough Test lock deserved kudos for his Six Nations. “Very mobile, athletic, aggressive, good lineout operator, works really hard in defence, not just from a tackle perspective but at the ruck as well trying to be a nuisance with counter rucking.

“I just thought he looked very comfortable at Test level, I just thought he looked very good. All the England players had a hiccup against France but take that game out of it, I thought he had an excellent campaign.


“He has had an ankle dislocation which is a horrendous injury to have, probably one of the worst you can get in rugby, so hopefully he can come through that and get fit over the summer and have an impact at the World Cup.”

Switching to the backs, where Warburton included three Frenchmen in his team of the Six Nations, he suggested picking three Irishmen to slot in, taking their representation in his Lions XV to 10 to go with three Scots and two English.

“My nine, I’d have to go with (Jamison) Gibson-Park. He only played one game but when he is up and running, he would be the nine. Someone for Penaud on the right wing? I really like James Lowe but he is left-wing and so is Duhan (van der Merwe). I’m thinking between (Anthony) Watson/(Mack) Hansen and would probably have to go with Hansen, he has got a bit more form.

“At 13 instead of Fickou, I’d have Garry Ringrose. I really like him. He has got proper gas but defensively at 13, I have been watching quite closely and we are seeing so many teams that run that frontline runner and back option, and loads of people are just getting sucked in on that front one which opens up the space in the back.


“He is making those reads brilliantly as a defensive 13. His attack is great, but I am seeing him as a defensive 13. He comes off that line and when that ball is going out the back, he reads it and comes out so quickly and reads the play. From a defensive perspective, he has been excellent at 13.”

Ringrose curiously finished joint third on the Six Nations list of missed tackles, though, matching England’s Owen Farrell with 15 misses and finishing one behind Italy’s Giacomo Nicotera and two behind the table-topping Azzurri winger, Pierre Bruno.

It’s not the chart you would normally want to finish so high up on, but Warburton insisted that it didn’t detract from the effectiveness of Ringrose in the four championship matches that he played for Ireland prior to the concussion that ruled him out of the title clincher versus England.

“The reason that is probably the case is 13. We see loads of sevens and second rows with 100 per cent tackle rates. It is because you are tackling players who are pretty non-evasive because you are tackling forwards who are running straight off a nine. It is a heck of a lot easier to have a 100 per cent tackle rate when you are back row.

“When you are 13, you are tackling constantly within probably a 15-metre space against the most evasive players in the game and you have got to make a read on a frontline and backline player. So, if you saw someone just running straight at Garry Ringrose, he would never miss that tackle. He would make those.

“It’s the one where he is having to make a late read and an adjustment because he is having to deal with some footwork and that is probably why he has got that statistic.”

To wrap up, would Warburton go for a different Lions head coach than Warren Gatland, the boss of the past three tours who posted a one-win-from-five campaign back at the 2023 helm in Wales? “Andy Farrell,” emphatically said the retired skipper.

“He has had the natural progression to it. He has been an England assistant, an Irish assistant, an Irish head, a Lions assistant – the natural progression for him would be a Lions head.

“For me, that would make sense and given his track record recently, he has been on two Lions tours, knows what Lions tours are about, has worked in two home nations, is a part of a Grand Slam and potentially a team that is almost certainly going to be at least a World Cup semi-finalist and potential winners, he has ticked all the boxes so far for me.”

Sam Warburton’s Lions XV:
15. Hugo Keenan (Ireland)
14. Mack Hansen (Ireland)
13. Garry Ringrose (Ireland)
12. Sione Tuipulotu (Scotland)
11. Duhan van der Merwe (Scotland)
10. Johnny Sexton (Ireland)
9. Jamison Gibson-Park (Ireland)
1. Pierre Schoeman (Scotland)
2. Dan Sheehan (Ireland)
3. Tadhg Furlong (Ireland)
4. James Ryan (Ireland)
5. Ollie Chessum (England)
6. Courtney Lawes (England)
7. Josh van der Flier (Ireland)
8. Caelan Doris (Ireland)
Head coach: Andy Farrell (Ireland)

  • Asahi Super Dry are the Official Beer Partner of Rugby World Cup 2023 and will be taking fans beyond expected this summer


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