Six Nations: Sam Warburton puts Lions hopes on hold in bid to make Wales bench

Wales captain has fallen out of favour

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Sam Warburton, a warmish favourite at the start of the season to lead the British and Irish Lions in Australia this summer but now a temporary also-ran with Wales, said all the right things yesterday when asked to reflect on his recent Six Nations travails.

The Cardiff Blues flanker missed his country's victory over France in Paris through injury and has known for a week that he will not return to the starting line-up for this weekend's game with Italy in Rome, although he is expected to be named among the replacements. This is not ideal for a man with grand Lions ambitions, but for the moment at least, he is willing to take it lying down.

"It's something I'll have to bat off," he commented when asked about the Lions speculation. "The Lions would be special for any player involved, but no one is mentioning the L-word. If anyone did, the players would be the first to give him a slap in the face. I'm not changing my approach: I'm just focusing on my rugby and trying to prioritise as best I can. The rest looks after itself. If you start looking further on, that's where you fall short.

"I think it was quite a smart call to announce the team for the Italy game early, because it has given people extra time to prepare. The starting players have had eight or 10 sessions together, instead of three.

"I hope I can get on the bench. I've been looking at my game and I don't think I've made any obvious mistakes: if I was slipping off tackles or getting smashed about in the contact area, I'd be concerned. Blips happen. You're never going to have a 10- or 12-year career where you are constantly on the way up."