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Warburton on comeback trail

Sam Warburton looks set to feature during the opening exchanges of this season's RBS 6 Nations Championship when Wales set off on their quest for an unprecedented title hat-trick.

The Wales skipper has not played since a home defeat against Australia almost two months ago due to shoulder trouble.

But Warburton is firmly on the comeback trail and he may play for Cardiff Blues in an LV= Cup game ahead of Six Nations kick-off.

Wales' opening Six Nations appointment is with Millennium Stadium visitors Italy on February 1, followed by Ireland in Dublin seven days later.

"I need to have a chat with (head coach) Warren Gatland and the medics early next week to decide what's the best thing to do," said Warburton, who was speaking at Wednesday's Six Nations tournament launch in London.

"There are a couple of hurdles at the end of this week that I need to get over, and then make a decision.

"When I first saw the specialist, he said towards the end of January would be the most realistic, so it hasn't been too different from what he said, really. I wouldn't play unless I was fit enough."

And Gatland added: "Sam is hopefully not too far away, the same with Gethin (Jenkins). Last year, we had 19 players who could train going into the first week. It's nice this time having close to 30 players being able to take the field and train.

"You are always going to get a few niggles in the squad, but to think we might have everyone back from injury in a few weeks and fit and available is really encouraging.

"It's about us making a collective decision. First of all, what's best for Sam. Does he go back and have a game for the Blues? We will sit down early next week before we name the team to play Italy."

No team in Six Nations history has won the championship three years in a row, but 2012 and 2013 champions Wales could achieve that prize over the next two months following a campaign that sees them playing three games at home.

"One of the things you can't coach is experience and we think we have got a bit of that at the moment," Gatland said.

"The other thing that is important from a coaching perspective is to have some players with X-factor, and we feel we have definitely got four or five players in the team that could potentially change a game, and it is nice to have that firepower.

"We've already achieved a lot but we are not satisfied with that. Hopefully, we can go through a period of real sustained success for Wales.

"When I first arrived, the success of the 1970s Wales teams was rammed down their (players') throats year after year. These players can leave behind a legacy of their own, and that is something we are conscious of."

Gatland also believes his squad will not be distracted by the ongoing political battle between the Welsh Rugby Union and Wales' four professional regions over areas like funding and competitions.

"The dispute that is going on between the Union and the regions is completely out of our control," he added.

"It is nothing we can sort out as either coaches or players. You've got to let the powers that be sort that out. All we can do is concentrate on the training pitch and on what we do when we take the field. The whole focus is on doing well in this tournament.

"We think we are in great shape, physically. We don't think any team works harder than we do, and we pride ourselves on how hard we work and how hard we train.

"We know that if we get into a tough game, physically, we are going to last for 80 minutes. I think that has definitely been a focus for us. We definitely know we are fitter than most teams in world rugby."


From Belfast Telegraph