Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Sam is the Main Man

To say I often disagree with Stuart Barnes would be to say Israel and Palestine are not best friends. I get on with Barnes' commentary and opinions like water gets on with oil. There are some other pundits and commentators within rugby that I often disagree with, but most warrant respect. Most of my respect for Barnes has been carried off like Israel Folau on George North's shoulders.

In an interview about the Lions with Fox Sport, talk inevitably turned to the injury of Lions captain and openside Sam Warburton. "A blessing in disguise," said Barnes. If you aren't able to imagine the reaction this has received you need look no further than Twitter or the comments on the YouTube video. There the words have flowed fast, free and mostly four letters at a time.
Instead of berating Barnes, however, this will be a celebration of Sam Our Captain as planned after the second test, but before Barnes hit the screen (That was a hard decision though believe me).

In the build up to the Lions tour many shared Barnes' sentiments on the Blues' man. Some still do. The work Sam does though is priceless. This isn't the first time Warburton has had to deal with this though. To most fans, Warburton came from nowhere. As the career of Martyn Williams began to close, Welsh fans feared for what may come next. In a game where McCaw, Pocock and Brussow ruled the roost, Wales appeared to have no natural successor to the only man who fronted up to them. Many fans were not happy when he was given the nod ahead of "Nugget," but Warburton moved from international debutant to international captain and World Cup cult hero in a little over 12 months. Since that first cap against USA in 2010, Warburton has surpassed expectation to compete with the best 7s in the world and become a natural born leader.
His work at the tackle area sets Warburton apart from his piers. Warburton gets to more breakdowns than the RAC and generally rules them. Many people site his ability to turnover the ball as his strength, but his outstanding prowess in ball retention and protection is equally as expert. During the second test at Melbourne Warburton found himself in a ruck with with no teammates for back up, but he held off three Wallaby forwards with text book body position and perfect technique.

Warburton is no one trick pony though, in fact he's no pony at all. Warburton is a war horse, even at the age of 24. He's been to battle and won, the victor at the battle of the breakdown. There at the frontline. And it is from the frontline that he leads. Leading by doing and doing well. His work rate is unquestionable, from tackle to breakdown and back again, he continues to strive for victory. Victory at every minor battle because each victory at the battle, eventually, wins the war.

With Dan Lydiate joining him in the backrow, the defence is as strong as they come. A virtual fortress with an almost telepathic link for the tackle and jackal, a master class in the physicality and precision of the tackle area.
Barnes talked about O'Brien giving the Lions more go forward. The Irishman is a better ball carrier without doubt, although Warburton's ability to carry is much underestimated. The question remains though, what use is a ball carrier with no ball to carry?

Not that openside will ever be the first port of call when looking at the metres made statistics. The Lions inability to play on the front foot is more down to the lack of a recognised inside centre able to break the defensive line, than how many metres a flanker tears up.

Without Warburton, the Lions are definitely a weaker team. Sean O'Brien is an excellent replacement, a player of international quality and outstanding ability. Nonetheless, Warburton has that extra "something" that the world's top players possess; an 'x-factor,' a 'je ne sais quoi,' call it what you will. Much of his work goes on unnoticed and unpraised. However, unrelenting, he keeps on keeping on.

So, Stuart Barnes may believe his injury is a blessing in disguise, but it's hard to see it as anything other than a disaster for the Lions at the worst possible time. In the third test, Sam would likely have been the Lion's king and mane man.

 T-Rex - Telegram Sam

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