‘No chance, Hamish Watson is never too small’ – Sam Warburton

2013 and 2017 Lions captain dismisses concerns about Hamish Watson's size and picks Stuart Hogg as one of six definite Test starters

Sam Warburton models the 2021 British & Irish Lions Test jersey. Image: Canterbury
Sam Warburton models the 2021 British & Irish Lions Test jersey. Image: Canterbury

SCOTLAND openside Hamish Watson will have had British & Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland “purring” with his performances during the recent Six Nations and he is a certainty to tour South Africa this summer, according to Sam Warburton. 

In recent weeks, there have been doubts expressed by some in the media that 29-year-old Watson is too small to take on the powerful South Africans in their own backyard.

However, having earned 74 caps for Wales and captained the Lions on the last two tours in 2013 and 2017, Warburton knows a thing or two about back-row play.


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And the 32-year-old believes that Six Nations player of the tournament Watson will be a key man for Gatland and co against the reigning world champions.

“No chance, Hamish Watson is never too small,” Warburton replied when asked about Watson’s perceived lack of size compared to other modern day back-row players.

Josh Navidi and Justin Tipuric for Wales have had their critics over their careers around that too, but I said this on Twitter recently, power trumps size every day of the week.

“I’ve played against plenty of big guys who were slugs, but it is that repeated power that you need and personally I think Warren Gatland would have been purring watching Hamish Watson over the Six Nations, I thought he was outstanding.

“I can’t wait to see how he goes in the warm-up games [for the Lions].”

The Lions squad is named on 6th May with the first Test against South Africa due to be in Johannesburg on 24th July.

Warburton admits that the touring squad and first Test starting XV in his head have changed a number of times of late.

However, he does believe Scotland skipper Stuart Hogg is one of six ‘definites’ who will start in the Tests if fit.

“I think there are six bankers to start a Test match: [Irish tighthead prop] Tadgh Furlong, [English second-row] Maro Itoje, [Wales No.8] Taulupe Faletau, [England back-row] Tom Curry, [England winger] Anthony Watson and Stuart Hogg,” he explains.

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“As to who will be the captain, I go back and forth, but I go back to who I thought a while back and that is Maro Itoje.

“People will look at the first Six Nations game when he gave away four or five penalties [for England in the loss to Scotland], but that will have been a bit of rustiness and Gats will want him primed and ready to go because he is a guaranteed Test starter.

“I was extremely, extremely impressed when I toured with him in 2017 as well and given his age [26] I think he is at the right stage to captain because leading might be too much pressure on older guys who are just focused on getting through a tour.

“The reason I say Maro as captain is because I think he is a dead cert [to start the Tests] and then it is between Alun Wyn Jones and James Ryan to battle it out for that number five shirt.”

There are suggestions in some quarters that the Lions will be undercooked as a unit ahead of the first Test with only the BT Murrayfield clash with Japan on 26th June and five tour matches to come before playing the Springboks. However, Warburton is happy that they will be ready for whatever is thrown at them.

“[On the last two tours] there were a couple of midweek games which we didn’t need,” he states. “From a preparation point of view, I think four to five games is plenty, absolutely plenty. As players it’s not match fitness you’re chasing, once you’ve had one or two run-outs, you’re good to go. At the top level, these players can pick things up a lot quicker than the average person.

“I think an eight game tour is the way it should be moving forward and I don’t know a player who wouldn’t agree with that based on the conversations I’ve had.

“As for South Africa, well it will be difficult. I think they have four games before the series, but they haven’t played together since 2019.

“You’d have liked them to have more game time but when you have players that good, you don’t need that long to get going, you don’t forget how to run lines, how to run plays, it’s just getting the calls ingrained in your head.

“I reckon come the series it will be a pretty level playing field. I don’t think either team will use lack of playing time as an excuse.”

Insurance company Royal London have agreed to fund a feasibility study into the idea of a women’s British & Irish Lions tour, and Warburton would love it to become a reality.

“It would be amazing,” he said. “Obviously, right now, it would probably be dominated by English players, but then the incentive to play rugby would grow massively, the funding would grow massively in the other nations as well – a women’s Lions tour would be awesome.”

  • Sam Warburton was speaking as Canterbury launched the British & Irish Lions Test jersey. Get yours from www.canterbury.com.

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Gary Heatly
About Gary Heatly 179 Articles
Gary has had a love for both rugby and writing for as far back as he can remember. Having cut his teeth in the ‘real world’ of journalism at the Midlothian Advertiser local newspaper for a couple of years between 2005 and 2007, he has since been kept busy covering sport, mainly rugby. He was a member of the editorial team at SCRUM Magazine for 11 years until recently and now provides regular rugby content to various national and local newspapers, magazines and websites via his company GH Media as well as hosting a podcast. Twitter: G_HMedia

5 Comments

  1. Lets put this nonsense to bed once and for all…if we are talking weight then the average weight for a rugby player across Europe is around 102kg and the average height is 6ft 1″. That takes into account backs and forwards in that measurement from a survey completed in 2020.

    In Mish’s positions that he can play the following are the averages:
    Flanker:
    No7: 1.92m (6ft 4ins)/ 107kgs
    No6: 1.92m (6ft 4ins)/ 105kgs
    Overall: 1.92m (6ft 4ins)/ 106kgs (16st 10lbs)

    Mish’s stats – 1.85m and 102kg.That means he is giving away 0.7m in height & 4kg’s in weight. So the question becomes not about weight or height, but rather about attitude and ability.

    Mish has a very particular style offensively where he stands up quite high when going into the tackle and uses the leg drive to push through. Its actually one of the very few things I would change about his game, as I would like to see him get lower with ball in hand. But that’s neither here nor there. In defence he adopts the “smother” approach, and its almost a wrestling technique from my view. It is very effective in the ruck and the defensive tackle.

    Then we come to his attitude. You’ve heard the saying “its not about the dog in the fight, rather the fight in the dog”. Well that saying was made for Mish. He owns the space he is in and his work rate is just another level. The strength he gains from that approach is quite amazing.

    Now we move on to the South African’s he will face…They play a very different game and require big, trucking 6’s and 7’s to batter through. But we are not talking gargantuan differences. Siya Kolosi is 1.88m and 102kg’s, Francois Louw is 1.9m and 114kg’s and Pieter-Steph du Toit is 2.1m and 116kg’s. However Du Toit is a genetic freak. A bit like Van der Merwe in his position.

    Then lets look at one of the most successful Flankers of all time, and a true legend of the game….Richie Macaw. 1.87m and 107kg’s. Hardly a giant gap in physicality from Mish. Macaw was successful in the main because of his attitude and technique.

    In terms of attitude and ability I would put Mish up against any player and he would fair very well. Weight and height only get you so far. Technique, style of play, attitude, strength, and the way your team sets up to play are all factors.

    For me Mish is a player I would have in any global side. He can be replied upon to get you the yardage, be an utter pest, and generally boss most situations when required. That’s all down to his attitude and commitment to his team, his nation and himself.

    There is nothing small about Mish…

  2. Warburton reiterating what everyone with half a brain and a pair of eyes knows. ‘Rugby writer’ S. Jones is nothing but a troll and people should ignore him.

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