This means War

Sky Sports rugby union writer Tony Curtis looks at the problems ahead for British and Lions captain Sam Warburton.

By Tony Curtis - Follow me on Twitter @SkysportsTC.   Last Updated: 07/06/13 9:31am

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British and Irish Lions captain Sam Warburton will now know the enormity of the challenge that he faces.

The clash of the No 7s in Australia was always going to be the key battleground in the three-Test series - with the Wallabies churning out opensides like it is going out of fashion.

Not even injuries to David Pocock and then George Smith could dampen Australian spirits, as Michael Hooper and Liam Gill are more than capable challengers for the shirt.

However the biggest threat to Warburton doesn't, in fact, come from the Wallabies but from his own team-mates.

With a slight knee injury having left Warburton as a frustrated spectator in the opening two games of the tour, Justin Tipuric and Sean O'Brien have taken their chances to impress.

Tipuric set the standard with his performance in Hong Kong against the Barbarians. The 23-year-old Ospreys back-row was a strong contender for the man-of-the-match award in the opening tour match, as he seemingly covered every blade of grass.

He carried the ball hard, didn't miss a tackle and was a menace at the breakdown.

O'Brien, though, picked up the gauntlet in the clash against the Force, beating a couple of defenders and carrying it further.


In a more rounded display, O'Brien showed a bit of everything as the Lions routed the Force. He was a willing carrier and was harder to bring down but he also demonstrated some deft handling to bring others around him into the game.

The Leinster back-rower, who has overcome his own injury issues, picked up an assist and even added a kick in there for good measure.

The result is that Warburton knows his performance on his return to action against the Reds in Brisbane could be the difference between him being a tour captain or a Test skipper.

He has to raise his game to a whole new level if he is to start against the Wallabies on June 22 - also in Brisbane.

Tipuric already has the edge over Warburton, having been preferred in the No 7 jersey for the Six Nations decider against England in Cardiff. Warburton, on that day, had to settle for a place on the blindside and that could be a possibility again.

However the competition for the No 6 shirt is equally intense with Dan Lydiate and Tom Croft both taking their chances.

And don't even think about the No 8 jersey, with Jamie Heaslip and Toby Faletau engaged in an enthralling arm wrestle for the Test spot.

The fact he is captain will not be enough to guarantee Warburton a start, with head coach Warren Gatland having made it clear he will pick on form not reputation and status.

The battle for places can only be good for the Lions as the tour progresses, however for Warburton there is a danger it is a fight he could lose unless he can rise to the challenge on Saturday.

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