Sam Warburton got a glaring perspective on life pretty early in his rugby career 4 years ago

Sam Warburton got a glaring perspective on life pretty early in his rugby career

"I can't complain... I'm obviously gutted, but there was no malicious intent." - Sam Warburton, October 15, 2011

For a man who had just turned 23, Warburton spoke with tremendous dignity and grace after the worst moment of his rugby career. He had only been playing professionally for just over three years and had only been captain of Wales three months.


He had been integral to the Welsh side reaching the World Cup semi final, against France in Eden Park, but his eagerness to get his team on top he went in too hard on Vincent Clerc. He had meant to drive him back in the tackle but had lifted his legs too far 'over the horizontal' before dropping him down. Red carded after only 18 minutes.

Wales' 14 men played like heroes that evening, at Eden Park, but it was not to be. France advanced to the final only to be edged out by hosts New Zealand. Warburton, meanwhile, had to own his error and own it he did.

I was in Auckland that night and was struck by Warburton's character after that heartbreaking exit. He had not slunk to the dressing room after his sending off. He had sat on the bench and cheered his teammates on. Lived and winced every moment. He had walked onto the pitch to embrace each man after the final whistle and he had fronted up for post-match interviews.


Sam Warburton discovered pretty early in his rugby career not to sweat the little things and not to allow the bigger things to consume you.

He joined The Hard Yards to talk about his captaincy of the British & Irish Lions [from 21:00 below] and his colourful history with Eden Park.

"I remember doing an interview about that it about a month after it happened," Warburton recalls, "and it had been literally all I had been asked about for a whole month. My first press day when I came back there was about six hours of talking about the red card.


"And about a month after the World Cup, my grand-dad passed away. I remember driving to training and getting a text from my mum. I had been talking to him the day before in hospital.

"It kind of just made me realise there are much more important things in life than rugby. That experience put it into perspective for me - that whenever something bad happens, you lose a game or whatever, there's always much worse things in life. It's not like I ever wanted something like that to happen but that moment helped me give myself a smack on the face and get a grip of reality."

Warburton and Wales rebounded so well - winning the Six Nations in 2012 - and he was given the honour of leading the Lions on the 2013 tour to Australia. A 2-1 series win followed and, four years on, the coach and captain team of Warren Gatland and Warburton went unto the breach in New Zealand against the world champion All Blacks.

Eden Park was the venue for the First Test and Warburton was named on the bench. He came on for the final 24 minutes but the Lions were well beaten that day. There were confident predictions, from pundits and fans alike, of a 3-0 whitewash but there was a remarkable turnaround in Wellington and the series returned to Auckland with the score at 1-1.

What followed was another scintillating Test match in which the two sides could not be separated and the spoils were shared. It was an odd finalé to a gripping series but Warburton and his team left with pride intact and receiving praise from all that had been fortunate enough to see it all play out.


"Looking back," he says, "to go to the home of the back-to-back world champions and come away undefeated is pretty good. At the time, we were pretty disappointed that we didn't get the win but we have to be pretty pleased with how it all played out and, in time, that is how it will be."