Warburton will gladly return Rees' armband

Wales' World Cup captain happy to relinquish the role to fit-again hooker for the Six Nations

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Sam Warburton says he would understand if Matthew Rees was reinstated as Wales captain for next month's Six Nations.

"I've had no indication what's going to happen, but Matthew was captain for the last Six Nations campaign," said the Cardiff Blues flanker Warburton, who led Wales at the World Cup after Rees was ruled out with a neck injury. "He did a brilliant job and it was only bad luck he didn't end up being captain in the World Cup. So if I did it as a temp thing, then I completely understand that.

"We know there's going to be a lot of pressure and expectation in the Six Nations. But [defence coach] Shaun Edwards always says it, as well as [lock] Alun Wyn Jones – they reckon we play better under pressure, so hopefully that's the case."

Scarlets hooker Rees returned to Test action last month as a replacement in the 18-24 loss to Australia in Cardiff, with Wales again captained by Warburton. Both men have led their country with distinction.

Warburton has earned rave reviews for his performances at open-side in the last year, and this week was named the Rugby Union Writers Club's personality of 2011. However, the 23-year-old's World Cup ended on a disappointing note when he was sent off for a dangerous tackle on Vincent Clerc in the 9-8 semi-final defeat by France.

Irish referee Alain Rolland was the man in charge that day and he has yet to take charge of a game in Wales since that semi-final. That will change today at the Heineken Cup game between the Scarlets and Northampton – and Warburton hopes the presence of the controversial official will not detract from the occasion at Parc y Scarlets.

"Welsh people love rugby so much they're not going to forget about that, but he was just doing his job at the end of the day," Warburton said. "I'm sure there's a few people who will want to buy tickets purely because he's reffing, but hopefully it doesn't distract from the fact that it's going to be a big game for the Scarlets."

Meanwhile, Exeter will aim to accomplish a successful Italian job today and set up an Amlin Challenge Cup showdown with French heavyweights Perpignan. The Chiefs should encounter few problems against Cavalieri Prato, opponents they crushed 68-0 at Sandy Park two months ago.

And if Perpignan defeat Newport-Gwent Dragons in France this evening, they will head to Devon next week with a quarter-final place available for the victors.

"Perpignan will be a big game, but if we get too far ahead of ourselves then that is when we are going to fall over," the Exeter assistant coach, Ali Hepher, said. "This weekend will be tough. Any Italian side at home is a different kettle of fish to when they travel away, so we have to be fully prepared and perform to our maximum."

Exeter show 12 changes from the side that won away against Premiership relegation favourites Newcastle last weekend, with only the forward trio Hoani Tui, Aly Muldowney and James Phillips remaining in a team captained by fly-half Gareth Steenson.

"The club has moved on quite a lot these last couple of years," Hepher added. "Two years ago it was league fixtures week in, week out, but now we get that mix of say three weeks of Premiership action, two weeks Amlin, two weeks LV Cup and then back into the Premiership again. That makes things exciting for the guys and keeps the enthusiasm going within the squad."

Premiership strugglers Wasps can regain control of Amlin Pool Three from Bayonne if they defeat their Italian hosts Rovigo today. Despite their domestic woe, Wasps will secure a last-eight berth by beating Rovigo and then Adams Park visitors Bordeaux a week tomorrow.

"We have worked hard to get ourselves into a strong position in the table," said the Wasps rugby director, David Young. "We obviously need to win both games, and if we get a bonus point this weekend it would really strengthen our case."

Former England scrum-half Shaun Perry will captain Worcester today when they look to remain on the tail of the Pool One favourites Stade Français by defeating Italian side Crociati at Sixways. Wing Miles Benjamin is switched to outside centre, while fly-half Andy Goode takes over the No 10 shirt.

"The feelgood factor at the club over the last seven days has been fantastic," said Worcester's head coach, Richard Hill. "We want to make Sixways a place where supporters expect us to win, no matter what the game or competition."

In Pool Five today Sale head to Spain, where an anticipated bonus-point win against La Vila would mean they will meet Brive in a winner-takes-all encounter at Edgeley Park on Thursday night.

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