No Wales return for Warburton

  • Last Updated: February 12 2013, 17:53 GMT

Sam Warburton's Lions aspirations have been dented after Wales interim head coach Rob Howley confirmed he is set to leave the flanker out of his side to face Italy a week on Saturday.

Sam Warburton: Must wait to regain his place
Sam Warburton: Must wait to regain his place

Injury permitting, Howley will opt to stick with the same XV who beat France 16-6 in Paris last weekend, even though Warburton is expected to be available for selection after a shoulder problem.

Ryan Jones will retain the captaincy while Justin Tipuric will continue in Warburton's preferred number seven role.

Warburton has this season struggled to recapture the form which marked him out as arguably the player of the 2011 World Cup, and a key element in Wales' 2012 RBS 6 Nations triumph.

Those excellent performances had made the Cardiff Blues' back-rower the standout candidate to lead Warren Gatland's British & Irish Lions party Down Under later this year.

But, like his team-mates, Warburton appeared one-paced during a wretched autumn that saw Wales suffer four defeats, to follow on from their 3-0 series whitewash in Australia last summer.

Matters got worse when he suffered a 'stinger' injury as Wales opened their Six Nations title defence with a 30-22 defeat to Ireland in Cardiff, ruling him out of the win at the Stade de France.

Jones led the side admirably in his absence, while Tipuric was equally impressive on the openside flank.

With the likes of Tipuric, Chris Robshaw and Sean O'Brien staking strong claims to be among Gatland's touring party, Warburton quickly needs to get back to his best to justify a place.

No longer being an automatic selection for Wales will do little to enhance his chances.

But even though the 24-year-old is making good progress in his recovery from injury, Howley had no hesitation in sticking with the same side in Rome.

"I have told the players the same XV will start in Italy," said Howley. "I think it is pretty important from a coach's perspective that we reward the players who have gone out on the field.

"I thought Ryan Jones was outstanding in terms of his leadership and it is a just reward that he captains the side against Italy.

"It gives us two additional days for preparation, this Thursday and Friday.

"If everyone comes through the weekend fit we will definitely start with the same XV against Italy."

He added: "Sam is better, he is still feeling the stinger to some extent but I wanted clarity.

"In terms of preparation, the team comes first. What I don't want is to wait on medical opinions, and the way the team went on the weekend they deserve to start again.

"It is a reward for the performance. We have talked about the determination, the attitude and resilience, and that is what you reward a side for when they come up with a win in France, which is not easy to get on any occasion."

Howley also welcomed the addition of lock Alun Wyn Jones to his squad.

The 27-year-old returned to action as a substitute for the Ospreys in their RaboDirect PRO12 win at Ulster on Friday, having been sidelined since suffering a shoulder injury in Wales' autumn defeat to Argentina.

Ian Evans and Andrew Coombs have excelled in the second row so far during the Six Nations, but Jones' presence adds some welcome experience with Bradley Davies and Luke Charteris sidelined.

He said: "He has been out with injury and had 30-odd minutes last weekend, and with the second rows we have lost to injury it's great to have a another senior player coming back to fitness."

Howley has come in for plenty of criticism as Wales' fortunes slumped, but the former scrum-half paid tribute to the character shown by his players in ending their dismal run.

"I didn't believe we were as bad a team as we were being portrayed," he said. "They were small margins but that's the nature of international sport.

"Their composure in certain aspects of the game was excellent on the weekend and I am so pleased for the players after what they have been through over the last few months.

"They have kept their belief, their confidence has been dented as that is what happens when you lose games, but their attitude and fortitude have been outstanding and I would never question our players in those qualities."


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