Sam Warburton gives backing to captaincy successor Alun Wyn Jones
Sam Warburton has backed his captaincy successor Alun Wyn Jones as "a stand-out candidate" to lead Wales in this season's RBS 6 Nations Championship.
And record-breaking Wales skipper Warburton revealed that he had spoken with Wales' interim head coach Rob Howley since the autumn about the captaincy role.
Warburton led Wales 49 times from 2011 to 2016, with his reign including notable highlights like two Six Nations titles and a World Cup semi-final appearance.
But 105 times-capped Ospreys lock Jones will be at the helm for Wales' Six Nations campaign, which begins against Italy in Rome on February 5.
"Alun Wyn is a vastly-experienced player and he has more experience than me at international level," said Warburton, who was speaking to reporters on Monday after Wales' Six Nations squad met up for training.
"He knows I am there for him whenever he wants, but he's been and seen pretty much everything in this game.
"That is what makes him such a great candidate to be captain for this campaign.
"The role he has played probably won't change too much, really, because he has had such a massive influence on the squad since I have been captain.
"All he has to do is keep doing what he is doing, then all he does is take the armband on to that field when it is Test match time. For Alun, I think it will be a nice smooth transition. He will be able to cope with that fine."
Howley announced 31-year-old Jones' appointment last week, and Warburton said he had spoken regularly with the former Wales scrum-half and skipper about captaincy.
"There wasn't a definitive moment," Warburton added. "This has been happening over the past few months.
"Rob is a good guy to speak to about it because he was captain of Wales when he was playing. We've had many conversations over the past few years about captaincy.
"It probably came to our attention during the autumn, when we started talking about it, and then through December and January.
"There wasn't a single definitive moment, it was a decision which we both agreed on and which we both thought was best for myself individually and for the team as well. It happened over a certain amount of time, rather than being a snap decision.
"The one thing I said to Rob and Warren (Gatland) in the past, the only problem I had with captaincy was that you don't want to get complacent and expect to be picked in the team.
"That's why this is great now. There are so many good sixes and sevens in the squad, that you have really got to bring your A game just to get in the 23.
"There is so much competition, and that's what I want, to try to bring the best out of me. It makes me have to work even harder than before to get in the team.
"To get picked in the team has always been my focus and my priority. Not having the captaincy now will allow me to do that even more."
Warburton admitted it would have been "the biggest mistake" of his rugby career had he not accepted the role offered to him as a 22-year-old by Gatland in 2011.
"When I look back to when I nearly didn't take it back in 2011, that would have been the biggest mistake of my rugby career, and I am so pleased I didn't do that," he said.
"For me, back then, I was completely out of my comfort zone. I didn't want to do it, which everyone knows about.
"But looking back on what it has given me and how it has helped me as a person and as a player, it has massively helped improve me.
"I have really enjoyed my time doing it over the last five-and-a-half years, and I would be kicking myself now.
"I guess I wouldn't have known what it would have been like, but if I could be sat here now as I am, or when I rejected in 2011 if that had been the case, I am really pleased I am in the position that I am now."
"Captaincy has never been the motivation for me. When I sit down at the start of the season and think what I want to achieve, captaincy hasn't been a part of that, it's been a bonus.
"It has been lovely while I've done it, but I can enjoy my rugby without it."