In our exclusive interview, Wales and British & Irish Lions legend Sam Warburton reveals why he’s excited to join Seat Unique, his Rugby World Cup predictions, the 2021 Lions tour, and his retirement.

We're delighted to announce one of the most successful British & Lions captains of all time, Sam Warburton, as our Brand Ambassador; a professional sportsman who knows first-hand the power of live events to create experiences that will stay with you forever – whether you’re on or off the pitch.

We caught up with Sam to discuss his illustrious career, his retirement from the game, 2019 Rugby World Cup predictions, and what excites him most about joining our team.

What excites you about being a Seat Unique Brand Ambassador?

"The industry has been crying out for a platform like Seat Unique and it’s one I truly believe in. I think it’s got serious legs, and most importantly, it’s the right thing to do for fans to access tickets. From that point of view, becoming a Brand Ambassador was no brainer."

What excites you most about working with Seat Unique?

"Great people is the first thing. When you retire from a team sport, the one thing you miss is that team environment and being involved with a group of people who are all trying to go to the same place, in the same direction, all working together. Everybody I’ve met at Seat Unique has that vision and ambition, so it’s really nice to get on board with like minded people."

What are you looking forward to most at Seat Unique’s launch party?

"I'm looking forward to meeting the investors and speaking to them to know why they’ve chosen to work with Seat Unique. I’m also looking forward to getting to know everybody involved, spreading the word about Seat Unique and trying to get as many people to know about it as possible."

What do you enjoy most about hosting the Captains Club at Principality Stadium?

“I go to the Captains Club before matches, and as I tend to work for the BBC during games, I come back afterwards. I know a lot of people there on a first name basis now because they turn up every week and they sign up for one or two seasons.

Hospitality guests also get to spend a few hours with a captain from the away team too, which is a really nice experience for them to meet two captains of their countries in an intimate setting. The opposition captain changes every week, so you get a different guest for each match day - it’s nice for both sets of fans.

It’s been a nice box to host so far because it’s really laid back. An informal Q&A might be chucked in about the game or we might tell a few anecdotes. It’s just a really good event where you get to know people.”

What’s the best stadium you’ve ever played rugby at and why?

“It sounds bias but it’s without a doubt the Principality Stadium. Obviously it’s got sentimental value as it’s my home stadium, but it’s nice to hear after match functions that great teams like New Zealand and those in the Southern Hemisphere all echo your thoughts. Many of them say it’s by far the best stadium they’ve played in-over their home countries.

I definitely have a soft spot for Twickenham because I grew up watching the 2003 World Cup with Johnny Wilkinson and Clive Woodward. I watched so many games there and some of my heroes have played at that stadium. I always wanted to replicate playing on that pitch. I remember when I played Twickenham I was a bit starstruck.”

What’s your best hospitality experience?

“Twickenham was very impressive. It’s the little things; the amount of toilets they have, the great service, accessibility, even the decor was immaculate. All those little things count and I just thought it was really well done. There’s a lot of drinking at rugby matches but it never got too heavy or out of control. It was a really nice atmosphere and I’ve always been impressed with the hospitality there.”

What’s your greatest ever achievement from your rugby career?

“My greatest achievement would be [playing for] British & Irish Lions because it’s the pinnacle of British & Irish rugby, especially the fact that it only happens every four years. I think there’s about 2 million registered rugby players in England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland so to be in the best 15 and to be captain of that twice was really surreal.

The British Lions was without doubt always what I aspired to be and achieve. My mates still say to me now, ‘you’ve played for the Lions’, and I still can’t believe it. I wanted to do it so desperately from the age of 14."

Was it a dream of yours from a young age to be a Lions captain?

“I always wanted to play down the centre lines. I never set a goal to be captain because I was always a very introverted sort of person - very quiet, naturally. I’ve always been a bit of a closed book, so being captain in a rugby environment which is full of extroverts and big characters was something I never really wanted. I said yes to it [captaincy] very reluctantly.

Now that I look back as a 30 year-old, I’m glad I did it because it taught me so much about leadership, and it threw me into the deep end in so many situations I would have never been put in. I’ve become a much better person because of it and a much more confident person because of it. Sometimes to achieve you have to go out of your comfort zone. Sometimes it takes a person to push you into that zone, which it did for me from a captaincy perspective."

What was it that pushed you to retire from professional rugby?

“In a nutshell, I had a 9-10 year career and for 3 ½ of those years I was injured. I had 7 operations, concussions, dislocated fingers, muscle tears, and that doesn’t include multiple nerve damage to my neck. My body was really struggling and I thought the risk of playing rugby didn’t outweigh the potential reward of having a good quality family life.

I had a young daughter at the time who was two when I made the decision [to retire]. I was struggling to do things with her physically. That’s when I realised that I didn’t want to just deteriorate. I could be in my mid-to-late 30's having joint replacement and I just don’t want to go down that route. Even though I love rugby, there are more important things in life for me to enjoy."

Do you think you’ll ever come out of retirement?

"People have teased me about this and I do miss the contact side of it, that’s what I love about playing rugby. Although I miss it, I’ll never be tempted to play again because I can’t. I know I could tackle someone as hard as I wanted but my neck would go again. I know I actually couldn’t play even if I was tempted to, so I won’t be one of those people who comes out of retirement.”

Do you think there’s enough support for retired sportsmen and women after leaving the game?

“No is the short answer. I was lucky that I had an exit strategy that I could take. A lot of that was ambassadorial roles, public speaking or working with the media which I knew was there straight away. I was lucky I could fall straight into that stuff but most players don’t have that luxury. Rugby isn’t at the level that football is at, particularly if you’re a regular club player. The money you earn isn’t going to take you beyond a year of your career once you’ve retired.

I read that 1 in 3 players go through depression when they retire. I’m lucky I’m not one of those 3 players but it’s very common. I think there’s awareness being raised now and there’s a lot more help than there was going back five, ten years ago. The players do need [help] because, like myself, some players have never had a job.

From the ages of 15 to 29, I got paid to play rugby. I’ve never had to do paper round or anything. So when players retire and they’ve had twenty years of just playing rugby, it’s a massive wake up call. I always tried to get experience doing things while I was playing, whether it was media, speaking or things like that so I was well prepared when the time came. Not all players are well prepared but they’re getting there.”

What was the message you wanted to get across on your documentary, ‘Sam Warburton: Full Contact’?

"I don’t think people appreciate what players go through. They only see the 1% of us at playing at the stadium in front of 75,000 people, but they don’t see the other 99% which isn’t always glamorous. I’d probably say I didn’t enjoy about 80% of my career for about ten years. I didn’t like certain things I had to go through; the time away from family, the injuries, the public criticism in the press which doesn’t just affect you, it infiltrates all of your family and affects them. I didn’t like the time demands-you’re being pulled to go left right and centre to appearances. Sometimes you feel like a piece of meat but then the 20% I did enjoy completely outweighed the 80% of negatives.

I want people to appreciate, not just myself or what rugby players go through, but what families go through. For me, family comes first and that’s the most important thing out of everything. Our head coach used to say the same thing. [He said] ‘if anybody’s got an issues at home, make sure you talk to us about them. We’ll always let you go back if you need to because if things aren’t good at home then they won’t be at training.’ I just wanted people to realise how tough it is to play rugby. Even though it’s amazing and it’s a privilege, it’s tough and family comes first.”

You went to school with footballer Gareth Bale and cyclist Gerraint Thomas. Can you tell us a bit about the school you went to and how it helped to kickstart your rugby career?

"There was one summer where I think, within a month, Gerraint won the first stage of the Tour de France, I was announced captain of the British & Irish Lions, and Gareth Bale won the Champions League with Real Madrid. It was a pretty crazy coincidence.

Whitchurch High School has got fantastic sports facilities and the teachers were so supportive of me during my career. The school has its very own ‘Hall of Fame’ filled with hundreds of schoolboy internationals - it's just incredible. They always prioritise education but they do love sports and they allow people to flourish and enjoy it."

What can we expect from your memoir which is due to be released September 19th 2019?

"It’s a very honest reflection on rugby, injuries, and the physical and emotional stress players go through. I think it might be a bit of an eye-opener for some people who think a rugby career is just training with your mates Monday to Friday, playing a game Saturday, having a few beers and a laugh and getting on with it, but it’s a lot deeper than that. I think it tells the real story of what being a professional rugby player is all about, so hopefully it’s interesting. I haven’t gone and thrown anyone under the bus. I’m not a controversial character. It’s just an honest account of my career in rugby."

What are you best memories from your last Rugby World Cup?

"I think [Wales] were in the pool of death and drew the hardest pull ever in Rugby World Cup history which consisted of Uruguay, Fiji, Australia and England. We weren’t expecting to get out of the group stage at all, but we did manage to win the game against England even though we had a team littered with injuries.

The best moment from that was when we beat England because it secured our win through to the quarter finals, even though the team was depleted with injury and it seemed like a win would be completely against all odds.”

What are you winning predictions for the 2019 Rugby World Cup

"I genuinely think it’s wide open. Five teams can win it, three of which are from the Northern Hemisphere. I think England, Ireland and Wales can all win it. New Zealand are the team to beat without doubt. I don’t think Australia will be competing, they will be thereabouts but I don’t think they’ll win it."

Who are your top 3 players to watch in the 2019 Rugby World Cup?

"I guess the obvious is Beaden Barrett for New Zealand. It tends to be the number 10's who are the most influential players. I think Liam Williams is one of the important players in world rugby at the minute, he’s been amazing-and he’s from Wales! I think Owen Farrell is key for England as well.”

Can we expect to see you at the Lions 2021 tour in South Africa?

"I have no idea. I’d love to be out there. I’ve had no official conversation with the Lions but it wouldn’t surprise me if I was out there to some capacity - whether that’s television or working with the British & Irish Lions, I don’t know. You have to have level 1-4 coaching badges and I haven’t even done my level 1. So I’m pretty confident I won’t be coaching there but hopefully I’ll be involved in some capacity."

What's your favourite moment from Sam Warburton’s career? Let us know by posting a comment on our Facebook or Instagram page, or tweet us @seatunique.