Warburton among 12 JWC graduates for Lions

(IRB.COM) Tuesday 30 April 2013
 Warburton among 12 JWC graduates for Lions
Sam Warburton will lead the Lions only five years after captaining Wales at JWC 2008

It may have been no surprise that Sam Warburton was unveiled as British & Irish Lions captain for their 2013 tour to Australia, but the Welshman is just one of 12 players in the 37-man squad to have come through the IRB Junior World Championship pathway.

Warburton captained Wales to fourth place at the inaugural tournament in 2008 and counted among his teammates Leigh Halfpenny, Justin Tipuric and Jonathan Davies who were all named in Warren Gatland’s squad on Tuesday.

"It's by far the biggest accolade any British or Irish player could achieve - it's the ultimate," admitted Warburton, who is already the youngest player to captain his country at a Rugby World Cup after leading Wales to fourth place in 2011.

"If I went through my career without playing for the Lions, I'd be so gutted. It's something I've always wanted to do and have been desperate to do since I started playing rugby really so I'm absolutely thrilled to get called up. I'm extremely privileged and I can't wait to get started now."

Another Welsh graduate in the Lions squad is number 8 Toby Faletau, while all three of Scotland’s representatives came through the Junior World Championship in Richie Gray, Stuart Hogg and Sean Maitland, a JWC winner with New Zealand in 2008.

Leading the way among graduates

Scrum half Conor Murray is the only Irish graduate to make the cut by Lions coach Gatland with the other three graduates being England half-backs Owen Farrell and Ben Youngs, along with prop Mako Vunipola.

It will be a second Lions tour for Halfpenny, who just a year after his JWC experience was on the plane to South Africa and appearing on the wing in the 26-24 win over the Free State Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.

While the full back may have been something of a bolter in 2009, his place was assured this time around after an impressive Six Nations campaign which saw Wales successfully defend their title and him named Player of the Tournament.

Halfpenny is not only the leading point scorer among JWC graduates but also the most capped of the 12 JWC graduates bound for Australia with 44 Tests, only two fewer than the most capped graduate David Pocock, who will miss his one chance to face the tourists with a knee injury.

Warburton (38), Davies (36), Youngs (33), Gray (31) and Faletau (26) all feature in the top 15 most capped JWC graduates, with Maitland the newest to Test rugby after marking his debut against England with a try in round one of the Six Nations. In total these dozen graduates have amassed nearly 300 Test caps to date.

How many of them will make the squad for the first Test with Australia on 22 June in Brisbane remains to be seen, but the Lions are sure to face a number of Junior World Championship graduates in the Wallaby ranks with Robbie Deans having given 19 players to follow that pathway their Test debuts.