Wales coy over Warburton role

Sam Warburton has not played since the autumn series finale against Australia

Sam Warburton has not played since the autumn series finale against Australia

First published in National Sport News © by

Wales are keeping cards close to their chest regarding skipper Sam Warburton's prospects of facing opening RBS 6 Nations opponents Italy on Saturday.

Warburton has not played since the autumn series finale against Australia almost two months ago due to a shoulder injury.

Wales coach Warren Gatland is due to announce his team for the Italy clash on Tuesday.

Warburton could either be pitched straight in, given a role off the bench or not be involved and play for Cardiff Blues in their LV= Cup appointment with Harlequins on Friday night.

With prop Gethin Jenkins struggling to overcome a knee problem, it is expected that lock Alun-Wyn Jones will captain Wales if Warburton does not start.

"His (Warburton's) return date is pretty imminent, whether it is this week or next week," Wales assistant coach Shaun Edwards said.

"Sam is one of those players who is so fit that he can come straight back into a game and potentially play without a warm-up game, but having a warm-up game is another option as well."

As for Jenkins, Edwards added: "He is progressing, but I wouldn't say he is imminent to play yet.

"He is a very experienced player for us, but it is one of the positions where we do have a lot of cover. Paul James' form for Bath, Ryan Bevington's form has been outstanding, really."

Warburton has agreed terms to become Wales' first centrally-contracted player from next season after finalising a three-year deal with the Welsh Rugby Union.

And it followed Jones' decision to remain with the Ospreys until at least after World Cup 2015 despite considerable interest from big-spending French clubs, giving the reigning Six Nations champions a major double boost.

"It's great to see those guys, two absolute superstars, commit themselves to stay in Wales," Edwards added.

"All our drive, thoughts and actions are driven towards one thing, which is trying to retain this title and create history (by winning three successive Six Nations titles).

"It's important that we control the controllables and not dream too much ahead, even though, I must admit, at times I have thought what would it be like to be the only team (to win three in a row).

"But we know full well that every single team is waiting for us. I know I would be if I was in one of those opposition teams. I would be doing everything possible to stop somebody else winning three titles on the trot.

"Our preparation, I would say, is at a more advanced stage this year than last year. We had a lot of players who weren't playing regular rugby at that time.

"Italy won their first game last year. They beat France and Ireland last season, two huge powers of rugby, and they nearly beat England. We have to be on our guard.

"This is what we get judged on, the Six Nations.

"Yes, you are excited going into the autumn internationals, but in the end there are no trophies or medals at the end of them, but there is a big trophy (for the Six Nations), a Triple Crown etc, so there are lots of things to be shooting for.

"We have the ultimate motivation, really, but the opposition have the ultimate motivation to stop us doing it."

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