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Lions Roar: Sam Warburton Unveils 2025 Jersey at Canterbury x British & Irish Lions Preview

Sam Warburton

In an electrifying encounter at the recent Canterbury x British & Irish Lions preview event, I had the privilege of catching up with none other than Canterbury Ambassador, Sam Warburton, where I got to hear about the exciting revelations shared by the rugby legend himself, offering a front-row seat to the unveiling of this iconic piece of sporting history.

His captivating presence illuminated the event, providing us with an insider’s perspective and the inaugural glimpse of the highly anticipated 2025 Lions jersey.

Speaking ahead of this weekend’s Six Nations action, Warburton said:

‘Receiving my first official Lions jersey was the best single moment of my entire career’

When I was asked to be captain for the first time I actually burst out laughing when Warren rang me and asked the question.

I always aspired to be a Lion but never aimed to be a captain, so I burst out laughing but you can imagine that as a kid it is a question you never think you are going to hear.

When you actually hear ‘do you want to be the Lions captain?’, my only response was to burst out laughing as I couldn’t believe it.

When I was 14, for Christmas I asked for a Lions shirt with number seven on the back and vowed to myself I was going to be a British Lion from that moment.

I remember putting it away about six months later and dad asked me where the shirt was, I remember saying ‘I’m fed up of being a pretender, the next time I wear one it’s going to be the real thing’. 

I wore it everywhere at first, training, running, pretending I was going to be a British Lion. I remember putting it away and thinking about how hard I needed to work, and that I would only ever allow myself to wear another Lions shirt if it was the real thing, so I never wore a Lions shirt from that moment, even on their tours.

The odds are stacked for Wales against red-hot favourites England, when I first watched Chandler Cunningham-South, I thought ‘oh my goodness, how is he not in the England set-up?

Sam Warburton

So when I got my first jersey from Sir Ian McGeechan, we had a jersey presentation, that was a really overwhelming moment – probably my single best moment of my entire career.

It was well away from the cameras, just in the hotel, and I went back to my room, held my Lions number seven shirt the night before a game, I remember just staring at it.

I looked at myself in the mirror, looked down at the crest on my chest and thought ‘this is it’.

It was that feeling from 14-24, ten years of sacrifice and diligence, resilience, hard work and the mental toughness to keep going and believe in myself. 

It was a ten-year journey to get that shirt, and that’s the only shirt I have up in my house.

I loved playing for Cardiff, and I obviously loved playing for Wales. But I had this weird desire, I wanted to be one of the best because that is what the Lions is – the best of the best.

If I could relive one moment from my career, that is probably it. There are games that would be very close, second or third.

But when you are in the games, that is in the moment, you experience that joy instantly. But that moment was so satisfying because it was ten years that no-one had seen – all the dieting, the training, the injuries, the time away from home and family. 

Doing all the things that no teenager was willing to do. You do it, but you wonder if it is going to pay off, you just hope it does. But it was in that moment when you realise ‘I’m going to be a Test player’, you realise it was all worth it.

‘I would be very surprised if Owen Farrell is Lions captain – given his dad is head coach it could generate bad PR’

I think his (Farrell) name is certainly worth the conversation. I would be very surprised if it was him. It shouldn’t come into it, with his Dad being the coach as well.

If the coach wasn’t his Dad I think it would be a realistic option, and if the captain was to come out as Owen then I think it would be a great shout.

Given his dad is coach it could generate bad PR, and I know you shouldn’t pick a captain based on PR. But you worry what would the backlash be if that happened.

Until we know who the Ireland captain is going to be next year, I’m not sure. Naturally, if Andy Farrell has a successful Irish team and an Irish captain who is playing well and is going to start, it’s going to be very difficult to look beyond him.

Look at the number eights, that’s why I look at Caelan Doris. Number eight is one of those positions where you never really look past two players.

There are great players playing eight, like Ben Earl but I think he will end up at seven, Faletau I’m not sure will be around in 18 months.

Doris, who would have gone on the last tour if he wasn’t injured, by that point I can imagine he would be a candidate for the Irish captaincy. And if he is still on the same trajectory as he is now, he could be a very good candidate.

‘Farrell will still be good enough to go on the Lions Tour in 2025’ 

In 2013, Warren Gatland did ring Jonny Wilkinson who was at Toulon at the time, and he asked if he were to be selected, would he go on tour? Because Jonny was playing so well in France, though he had retired from international rugby.

This is almost going to be a carbon copy of that with Owen Farrell at Racing 92. I’m telling you now that in two years time, Farrell will still be good enough to go on that Lions tour if he wanted to.

Knowing both Farrell’s personally, and talking about Owen now, I thought he was going to be captain on the last tour.

Gatland did say that the players had a vote who was going to be in their leadership group and Owen came out on top.

He gets a bit of a bad rep, but Owen is one of the greatest players I have played with.

If you have seen him behind closed doors, and the way he drives things, if you want to see a leader then my goodness that is the epitome of a leader. You need those people in your team.

When I first watched Chandler Cunningham-South, I thought ‘oh my goodness, how is he not in the England set-up?’

I saw this kid play pre-Christmas because Harlequins were playing Cardiff, there was one kid who stood out and I thought ‘oh my goodness, how is he not in the England set-up?’.

Fast forward to the Six-Nations and he came off the bench the other day for England and had 15 minutes – Chandler Cunningham-South is a serious player. He’s 6ft 5in, explosive, big, aggressive and technically very good as well.

There’s not many number 6s around. There is always room for an enforcer in your pack, you need someone who can spearhead the effort.

Joe McCarthy is doing that now for Ireland, I think Cunningham-South can be that player at six who is really disruptive. I think in 18 months time he is going to be red hot and in the conversation.

To play international rugby you have got to have a certain athletic ability at the top level. Look at the top back row players who are having an impact – you’ve got Doris, Jack Morgan, Ben Earl, Aaron Wainwright. These guys are exceptional athletes, very physical and very tough.

I look at Cunningham-South and he’s got all that plus size. Probably the biggest and most athletic back row the Home Nations have at the minute.

He’s only 20 which means he’s still got another 18 months of growth physically, and he’s got 18 months of just getting Test match experience, playing with England and playing with Quins.

He’s just got that athletic ability and size I haven’t seen present in any of the Home Nations, and the important bit is he’s got the mentality, the bit between his teeth, that aggressiveness you need at level – and you can’t coach aggressiveness.

He seems to have the full package, I just hope he gets some game time. Great athlete, good in defence, good ball carrier. He could be that massive six I think the Lions could really benefit from and be destructive.

‘Ireland have done something behind closed doors to make their players respond really well’

It shows you a lot about the mental resolve of that Ireland team.

Ireland and France were both dealt the same cards, both to go out with the crushing defeats that they suffered.

They weren’t outplayed, play those games again and they could have won. So both teams went out in the quarters which was a devastating blow.

But it just shows – I don’t know what’s happened behind closed doors, but Ireland have done something to make their players respond really well.

We’ve even seen it in Europe, Leinster have dominated the first round winning four from four, but there was a bit of a hangover with teams like Racing and La Rochelle, coming back from the World Cup.

Toulouse flew the flag and Bordeaux did well, but a lot of the French teams struggled in Europe whereas the Irish teams, predominantly Leinster, came out flying.

There’s something they are doing behind closed doors from a cultural perspective, and environment, maybe it has to do with the management of the players. But they manage to get them emotionally peaking.

The quality is still there, the challenge you have got with players is to make sure they are emotionally ready to play a game. A player doesn’t lose tackling or passing ability overnight, you have got to make sure they are physically and mentally in the right place to play rugby. 

Whatever Ireland has done, then kudos to them because their players are in the right frame of mind whenever they take the field for club or country.

‘The odds are stacked for Wales against red-hot favourites England’

My only criticism of Wales over the last two years, and maybe this is because they are a young group learning…

But it often takes them to go behind on the scoreboard before they show all their cards and come out, because the pressure is off.

If you are down by 27 points, if you give up another five points then you’ve already had your pants pulled down, so they are thinking ‘oh let’s try something’.

Going away to Twickenham might actually work in Wales’ favour, England being semi-finalists in the World Cup, and going away from home then I think the pressure is off. The pressure is on England.

Italy are a much better team this season, I do think England had a tricky game out there so the wind was good for them. But people will still be thinking England should put Wales to the sword given that Scotland beat them.

But given that the pressure is off Wales, it will suit them. England are red-hot favourites, Wales haven’t won there since 2012 and before that in the Six Nations it was 2008.

They were both Grand Slam teams who won at Twickenham. You don’t win at Twickenham as an average team.

The odds are stacked against Wales, Twickenham was one of my favourite places to play but it was always so hard to go there.

If I was a betting man I’d go with England, but it does suit Wales that the pressure is off. If they can put England under some pressure early, just like Scotland did last week, I think it could be a tricky afternoon.