Lions tour: Wales flanker Sam Warburton no guarantee of captaincy, says coach Warren Gatland

  • 19/06/2017
Warburton at Gatland during Lions training. Photo credit: Getty
Warburton at Gatland during Lions training. Photo credit: Getty

Warren Gatland has insisted that captain Sam Warburton remains under pressure to force his way into the British and Irish Lions' first Test line-up.

Tour skipper Warburton is fit but has been left out of the Lions' 23 for Tuesday's Chiefs clash in Hamilton, raising hopes for the Wales flanker to squeeze into the Test squad after ankle trouble.

However, head coach Gatland has again reiterated his huge admiration for the back-row unit of Peter O'Mahony, Sean O'Brien and Taulupe Faletau, that helped the Lions "squeeze the life" out of the Maori in Saturday's 32-10 triumph.

Warburton continues to chase full match sharpness, and could well take a seat on the bench for Saturday's first All Blacks Test in Auckland.

"There's no doubt that there's some pressure on certain players and certain combinations have gone well," said Gatland, when quizzed on Warburton's situation.

"A lot of those guys who played against the Crusaders did exceptionally well, and last night's performance against the Maori, we dominated territory and possession, and we squeezed the life out them, an unbelievably talented backline that just went nowhere."

Gatland said openside flanker Warburton was unfortunate to roll his ankle early in the tour and was still finding his form.

He would have played in the Crusaders game, if fit.

"He had time against the Highlanders and we were able to give him time last night (against the Maori).

"So there will be some tough debates and discussions to have on the final make-up of what the back-row is going to be for Saturday."

Gatland claimed he was "always confident" Owen Farrell would be fit for the first Test, despite the England first five-eighth still battling a thigh issue.

Leigh Halfpenny must complete the head-injury protocols to start at fullback against New Zealand in Auckland on Saturday - so Liam Williams has been handed a chance to impress at 15 against the Chiefs.

Jonathan Joseph's omission from the 23 to face the Chiefs in Hamilton also raises the prospect of the England centre taking a seat on the bench against the All Blacks for the Test series opener.

Rory Best will captain the Lions on Tuesday, with the six late tour call-ups featuring on the bench to ease the burden on Gatland's probable Test match squad.