Sam Warburton has changed his mind about Tadhg Beirne and Maro Itoje
The former Lions captain is a huge fan of the Irish forward, but has rowed back on a bold call.
When it came to selecting the stand-out players of the Six Nations championship, Tadhg Beirne was high up Sam Warburton's list.
Vodafone British & Irish Lions ambassador Sam Warburton joined Sean O'Brien and host Lee McKenzie on the latest episode of House of Rugby UK, as they discussed the recently completed championship and possible picks for the 2021 tour to South Africa.
While O'Brien was fulsome in his praise for many of the Scottish players "who fronted up each week", Louis Rees-Zammit and the Irish pair of Hugo Keenan and Ryan Baird, Warburton commented:
"What did you think of Tadhg Beirne, Seanie? He impressed me in the back row. I think he has a great shot as he covers so many positions. For me, he's pretty much a banker to go on that tour."
O'Brien laughed as he recalled hating whenever he had to train against Beirne, back at Leinster, as he was "an absolute pain in the hole" who would frustrate him so much at the breakdown. "He was so competitive," he said, "and he has really come into his own now."
Following the conclusion of the Six Nations championship, Warburton picked his Lions XV and left Alun Wyn Jones out of his team for the First Test against South Africa. He wrote:
"In Ireland Tadhg Beirne played so well again that it looks increasingly difficult to leave him out of a Lions starting team. Which in itself is going to create some problems, because I think Maro Itoje has to start."
"A bit lightweight"
In his initial Lions XV, Warburton had six English, five Welsh and four Irish players. However, upon reflection of a further week, the former Lions captain has made some amendments.
That includes bringing in Stuart Hogg at fullback, replacing Henry Slade with George North and bringing in Alun Wyn Jones to the second row, at the expense of Beirne. Warburton explained:
"I've changed my mind on this already, from the article I wrote a week ago. I'm going to go Maro Itoje and Alun Wyn Jones. I did say Tadhg Beirne, but I think it could be a bit lightweight to play him together with Maro. So I've gone with Alun Wyn, who's a big 118-kilo guy. And for his leadership."
Also in the second row conversation, one would expect, would be Iain Henderson, Adam Beard, Joe Launchbury, Jonny Gray and James Ryan, who is good enough to force his way into the Test picture with a clear run of games before the season ends.
As for who should captain the Lions, Warburton is open to the idea of head coach Warren Gatland naming a tour captain - with Alun Wyn Jones well positioned for that - and leaving that role up for grabs once the Test Series approaches.
*Sam Warburton is promoting a cutting-edge app - launched by Vodafone UK & Ireland in partnership with the British & Irish Lions - for this summer's tour. One of the key features is the ‘XV Selector’, which lets users choose their own starting line-up which they can share on social media and messaging platforms as they compare their dream team with friends and other fans. It can be downloaded on the App Store or here on Google Play.
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