Warburton admitted he had confidence issues throughout a turbulent season which saw him relinquish the captaincy of his country in the middle of the Six Nations championship.
The Cardiff Blues openside was controversially named tour skipper for the eagerly anticipated summer series despite a shaky year at international level but Warburton is confident he has regained his form, and more importantly, the respect needed to lead his side into battle.
“I guess I’ve been thinking about it for quite a while,” said Warburton on leading the Lions class of 2013.
“Since the first announcement, I felt I had a chance to do that, as long as I played well, so I guess I’ve been thinking about how it might feel for a while now, but I won’t truly know until I do it. The last two games have been awesome, to lead the boys out, but I know it will be another level on Saturday.”
Warburton has enjoyed several intense battles with Australia’s star openside David Pocock in the last few years, but now the Welsh back rower faces a new foe in the form of New South Wales Waratahs wunderkind Michael Hooper.
Hooper has deputised ably in the Wallabies number seven jersey in the absence of Pocock, and Warburton is gearing up for what promises to be one hell of a battle at the breakdown come kick-off time in Brisbane.
“I’ve never really played against Hooper,” said Warburton on his new nemesis.
“He’s come off the bench when we’ve played against Australia, but I’ve never had a full 80 against him, so I can’t comment exactly on how that will go. The forwards stepped it up against the Waratahs at the breakdown — as a collective we did pretty well there and we’ll have to go up another level on Saturday.
“The one-on-one battles that number sevens have is always interesting, but the breakdown is very much a 15-man job. All the boys on the pitch. It’s up to the backs as well to make it difficult in those wide channels, get back on their feet and compete. We want to be as competitive at as many breakdowns as possible. I’ve had tough breakdown battles against Australia in the past, but I always look forward to those games.”
A self-confessed quiet captain, Warburton admitted he has resisted leaning on the older heads for leadership advice.
“I haven’t, no,” Warburton said on seeking out the elder statesmen in the squad. “I try and simplify everything. So being captain this Saturday… the fundamentals for me are exactly the same. Obviously the occasion is bigger but I’ll treat it like I treat every other game.
“I wouldn’t change what I do now. It would be too late and I think it would be the wrong thing to do, so I will approach it like every other game, and guys like Pauly [O’Connell] and Drico [O’Driscoll] have been speaking all week, talking to the players and those guys are vital for match preparations so they will play their part as they have done all tour.”
Warburton has forged a world-class backrow triumvirate with the Dragons pair of Dan Lydiate and Toby Faletau; a trio that was instrumental in guiding Wales to a World Cup semi-final in 2011.
The young Lions captain, however, will face the might of the Wallabies backrow without his Welsh partners in crime, but he insisted the current Lions selection is one based on form.
The combination of Warburton, Tom Croft and Jamie Heaslip was sublimely effective in the Lions’ rout of Michael Chieka’s Waratahs outfit last weekend; and the Lions openside is expecting more of the same at Suncorp Stadium.
“I thought the balance was good,” said Warburton on the trio’s performance in Sydney last Saturday.
“Crofty showed exactly what he could do with his line-out ability, even off kick-offs, under the high ball, and he is a threat with the ball in hand, which is great, and so is Jamie. Jamie works hard on the floor as well.
“So I think the balance was very good there. I really enjoyed it. There was plenty of chat among the three of us, trying to figure things out on the go, working as a pairing, whether to defend as a five-man, things like that. So I was really happy with the way that went and really looking forward to taking the field with them again on Saturday.
“That’s why you want to go on these tours, playing with players you haven’t played with before and learning new things. I’ve certainly learnt new things off those two guys.”