IT’S a sign of Wales’ ridiculous depth at openside flanker that two-time British & Irish Lions skipper Sam Warburton believes they have five players who are the envy of most international teams even after his retirement.
While England and Eddie Jones struggle for just one option in the number seven jersey, Warren Gatland has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal.
That comes despite Warburton calling time on his career at the start of this season at the age of just 29, but having led the Lions to victory in Australia in 2013, and a draw against two-time world champions New Zealand last year.
According to Warburton, Cardiff Blues duo Ellis Jenkins and Josh Navidi, fellow Lion Justin Tipuric, Dragons youngster Ollie Griffiths and Olympic silver-medallist James Davies are all capable of stepping into his shoes at Test level.
“Ellis did fantastic last season, he started the season this year really well as has Justin Tipuric,” said Warburton, who was speaking as he joined of the UK team selected for the Invictus Games at the Jaguar Land Rover Driving Challenge.
“James Davies unfortunately has picked up a knock but Ollie Griffiths is back playing really well for the Dragons, we’ve got freakish depth at seven.
“All of those four guys can do a top job in an international jersey, so whether we play with two of them, depending on who you have in your front five, I think there’s four guys that most countries would love to have playing number seven for them.
“Josh Navidi is perhaps more of a hybrid and can cover more positions.
“You’ve got five guys who I’m really looking forward to seeing how they go in the autumn. So every game now is important to stake your own individual claim.”
The most natural successor would appear to be Jenkins, who captained Wales alongside second row Cory Hill this summer when a young side toured the Americas, beating South Africa, USA and Argentina.
The 25-year-old is skipper of Cardiff Blues, Warburton’s former side, and has his ex-captain’s innate understanding of when he can challenge for a turnover at the breakdown.
And according to Warburton, it is that ability at the breakdown which sets Jenkins apart ahead of the November Tests, where Wales will face Scotland, Australia, Tonga and South Africa.
“I think with Ellis, when you watch his games, he wins two, three, four turnovers a game,” added Warburton, who is a Land Rover ambassador and addressed the UK team as they look to follow in his footsteps by succeeding Down Under at the Invictus Games in Sydney.
“There are all sorts of breakdown rule changes that have happened over the past few seasons but the one thing he does is that he’s very consistent at winning turnovers.
“When you want specialist players in your team, if you get three or four turnover opportunities which can bail you out of a tough attacking position or vice versa, when you’ve got that, it’s great.
“That’s what Ellis brings, he’s probably won the most turnovers out of a lot of the sevens in the league, most consistently. That’s where he’s stepped up really well and he delivers week in week out from a turnover point of view.”
Jaguar Land Rover is the Presenting Partner of the Invictus Games, which takes place in Sydney, Australia from the 20th to 27th of October 2018. Jaguar Land Rover is using this year’s Invictus Games to lead and inform the debate on future mobility, and how its future technology could help people’s lives.