Belfast Telegraph

Lions can handle heavy workload: Warburton

 

By Nick Purewal

Sam Warburton believes the difficulty of the British and Irish Lions' schedule in New Zealand has been "blown out of proportion".

The Lions captain insisted he has already acclimatised to the time zone and is ready for tomorrow's tour opener against the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians in Whangarei.

All Blacks boss Steve Hansen has suggested he would not countenance the Lions' quick turnaround of landing on Wednesday then playing tomorrow.

But Lions head coach Warren Gatland believes his squad are ready for the 10-match tour, and Warburton agrees.

"I'm fine, I think talk on the schedule has been blown out of proportion a little bit," said Warburton.

"If we had one squad of 23 it would be absolutely brutal, but we've got nearly two squads of players, so guys aren't going to be starting Saturday, starting Wednesday then starting again Saturday.

"So we've got a big squad of top-quality players who can deal with that fixture list.

"I can see how from the outside it looks bad but I think it's fine really.

"If guys were going to start six matches before the Test series that would ring alarm bells, but that's not going to happen.

"We've got a big squad, everyone's excited and desperate to start.

"The guys are fresh, ready to go and in a good place."

Warburton captained the Lions four years ago in their series win in Australia, but missed the start of the tour due to knee trouble.

This time the Wales star has shaken off another knee injury in time to feature in the first game in New Zealand - and admitted that has helped him settle quickly into the 2017 rhythm.

"Being fit from the start, that's been huge for me," said Warburton.

"It really felt like I was chasing it in Australia four years ago, I missed the first two games.

"I was the last guy to play a fixture on the whole tour.

"I was constantly panicking four years ago about when I was going to get a game and when I was going to pull through and recover.

"I was a little bit nervous about that. So it's nice that I can go in knowing what's happening this time.

"Hopefully I can stay fit and get a few fixtures under my belt.

"I'm going to need a good few games I think before I start to hit my straps.

"But we all know now that any game is a massive audition for the Test matches, so I'm really pleased to be involved in this first one."

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