Sam Warburton sparks political row after making 'British' claim ahead of Six Nations clash between England and Wales
Wales captain was defusing comments from the England camp that the Welsh were fuelled by hatred but has been criticised by a Plaid Cymru MP who has questioned his leadership suitability
Sam Warburton has found himself at the centre of a political spat after a Plaid Cymru MP questioned how the flanker can captain the Wales national team following his admission that he feels “British”.
In the build-up to this weekend’s crucial Six Nations encounter between England and Wales, Warburton was speaking in response to claims from the opposite camp that the Welsh were fuelled by “hatred” when it comes to their rivalry.
Warburton captained last summer’s successful British and Irish Lions Tour of Australia, and in his claims he said that the players all got on well Down Under. Both England scrum-half Danny Care and wing Jack Nowell have attempted to stoke the flames ahead of the hotly-anticipated encounter, but Warburton – whose parents are both English – stressed that he has no ill-feeling towards the English.
“Both my parents were born in England, so I can't think that way at all,” Warburton had said. “I think people make a bigger thing out of it.
“All the lads went on the Lions tour and got on well with the English boys. If someone asked me my nationality (on that tour), I would say British.
“The players love (playing England) because the atmosphere is so good. They are massive games, but hate is a strong word.”
However, Labour’s Jonathan Edwards MP criticised Warburton via social media and questioned how Warburton can lead out the side if he doesn’t consider himself Welsh.
“I really find it difficult to understand how someone who does not consider themselves to be Welsh can be captain of the national rugby side”, Edwards wrote on his Twitter account.
His comments were quickly criticised by fellow-Labour MP’s, with Owen Smith, the shadow Welsh secretary, saying: “"I commend Sam Warburton for simply telling the truth about the proud, shared identities he has, as a Welshman and a British citizen.
“And I equally condemn Plaid Cymru for daring to challenge Sam's role as captain of Wales in light of his feeling of belonging to both Wales and the wider UK.
“I feel exactly as Sam does, as do millions of Welshmen and women in Wales and across the World.
“And anyone who has seen Sam play, both as captain of Wales and as captain of the British Lions, can be in no doubt about the commitment and the passion with which he pulls on either shirt.”
Edwards later backtracked on his comments and released a statement in which he said Warburton was right to try and defuse to situation.
“Sam was doing his best to de-fuse the unfortunate jibes coming from the England team that Welsh players were motivated by hatred when playing the old enemy,” said Edwards.
“He was right to do so. There is no room for hatred when representing Wales in sport or in politics or any other walk of life for that matter.
“It's about pride in our country, people, heritage and culture.”
He later tweeted: “One thing we can all agree on is that Sam is a great player and we're all hoping for a Welsh win on Sunday.”
Speaking to The Independent after the triumphant Lions tour, Warburton admitted that he could have played for England given his heritage, but from the first moment he pulled on a Wales shirt his mind was made up.
“My dad was born in London, but his family were from the north hence the name Warburton,” he said. “My mum was born in Somerset but she had a Welsh mother and father so I’m pretty much 50/50.
“As soon as I played for the Welsh Under-16’s I thought I could never cross over. But you do toy with the idea while you’re growing up, you think ‘Oh I could play’. My dad would always support England when it came to football, so I never really grew-up with the same sort of mentality of the English as a lot of the Welsh do. I didn’t really have that sort of grudge.
“So I never felt that really because I always used to support the England football team. But if you ask any Welshman who they support in football it’s probably an English club, so it makes you realise you’re kind of being a bit of a hypocrite. But no, it was always Wales for me since I played for Wales for the first time.”
Warburton will lead Wales out at Twickenham on Sunday as they look to maintain their quest for an unprecedented third consecutive Six Nations crown. With both Ireland and France joining England and Wales on two wins apiece, the victor at HQ will go on to compete for the championship in next weekend’s final round.
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