Sam Warburton knows a thing or two about pulling on a Lions jersey – Wales’ youngest ever captain toured twice with the Lions in 2013 and 2017, captaining the legendary touring side to a memorable drawn series in New Zealand in what would be the final act of a career cut short by injury.
But today in his first official press conference since becoming a Lions ambassador, the 32-year-old former openside is decked out in the brand new Lions test jersey, launched ahead of the squad announcement. It’s a very smart looking kit, and while that might be the most important thing for fans, it’s also on the mind of players…
“We have this thing called ‘messy Monday’,” Warburton tells us. “It’s the first day we get together, whether it’s the Lions or even the first day of preseason with your club or country. And the first thing the players do is dive into their kit bag, because they want to see if the kit is good!
“The higher up you go, it is a percentage game, and that goes for everything – whether that’s diet, supplements… and the kit is a big part of that.”
As a result, the test jersey sports a few cosmetic differences to the supporter’s jersey launched in October last year, but the devil is in the detail – the shirt utilises the brand’s adaptive moisture-wicking Vapodri+ technology designed to deal with the variable condition across South Africa, and has a super-slim body-forming fit, it also sports 3D silicon logos that mean less stitches to absorb moisture or chafe skin.
Warburton is a player who has often enthused about what the Lions means to him personally, and sitting here today wearing the test jersey, after everything that has happened in recent months with talk of the tour changing venues and even being cancelled altogether, we can’t help but wonder if it makes it all feel real now.
“Yeah it does,” he affirms. “I’m also excited because I can think of a load of guys off the top of my head who could play test matches for the first time – I’m so excited for them, knowing what they’re going to go through.
“I’ll never be able to explain what it’s like when you’re in the changing room for a game. And you walk in off the bus, and then all the Lions shirts are there, beautifully around the changing room. And you walk to your number, and there’s two shirts there – because you swap one after the game – and you sit down, just for 10 minutes, and have a look at the program. And the physios go off to their corner, and the coaches go off to their corner, then all the players slowly start getting ready.
“You look around you, and just the quality around you, and then you see the Lions badges everywhere and the quotes, and the legendary players names around the changing room, and it’s just like… you’re just in awe of being there.”
Given this indescribable feeling, it’s perhaps no surprise that Warburton has short shrift for those in the media who called for the tour to be abandoned if fans cannot attend – because the players have sacrificed so much to get there
“People say, ‘Oh, it shouldn’t go ahead’ or, ‘Because there’s no fans it shouldn’t go ahead’. But you cannot take it away from the players either. I sacrificed ten years of my life to go on that  tour. So, for it not to happen, I would’ve been devastated – because you could fall out of form, injury… you try and peak for the right time.
“So, of course I’d love fans [to be there], I’d love it to be in a different situation. But we’ve all had to give and take a little bit over these last 12 months and if we have to concede on a few things in order for the Lions to go ahead I think, in the grand scheme of things, that’s still a massive win. We can still watch it from our sofas, at least. I think the players deserve that privilege.”
Sam Warburton was speaking as Canterbury launched the British & Irish Lions Test Jersey. Get yours from www.canterbury.com