Gatland claims Warburton's rapport with referees as key factor in captaincy decision

British and Irish Lions head coach claims Wales captain's relationship with officials can have a 'positive influence' on the tour

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The Independent Online

Warren Gatland has claimed that Sam Warburton’s rapport with referees was a key factor in his appointment as captain for the British and Irish Lions tour of Australia.

The New Zealander noted that the flanker’s conversation with official Steve Walsh during the RBS Six Nations decider against England in March was a prime example of his ability to connect with referees, and Gatland also highlighted his good relations with South African official Craig Joubert, who will be in charge of the second Test Down Under on June 29.

Gatland said: “There are only two or three players in the world that referees would allow to (talk to them). It's the ability Sam has to communicate with referees and when I saw that against England. it really stuck in my mind that this guy could do a job for us and potentially have a positive influence on the game with his relationship with referees.

“I think Craig has got a really good relationship with Sam,” continued the Kiwi. “Having spoken to Craig I know that he regards Sam as one of the best sevens in the world. He regards him on a par with (Richie) McCaw and (David) Pocock in terms of the way he is at the breakdown, his physicality and the way he carries.

"So when a referee makes these comments to you in terms of enjoying his leadership and saying that he's got a good rapport with him, it makes it a kind of easy decision for me to make in terms of appointing him as captain."

Warburton will lead the squad on the tour that gets underway on June 1, with a match against a strong Barbarians side in Hong Kong that will include the likes of Sergio Parisse, Imanol Harinordoquy and Harlequins fly-half Nick Evans.

Following that, they will play five warm-up matches before the test series gets under way, with a clash against the Melbourne Rebels between the First and Second test.