Image: Sam Warburton

Former Wales and Lions captain discusses the challenges and opportunities of coaching at professional level. Plus, Sam reveals his predictions for the 2021 British & Irish Lions First Test team against South Africa.

Last week we caught up with Seat Unique brand ambassador and former Wales & Lions captain, Sam Warburton. In part one of our exclusive interview, the Lions legend told us how he's successfully grown his business, SW7 Academy, during the COVID-19 crisis, is staying motivated in lockdown and how he's managing his personal and professional life while staying at home.

In part two, Sam discusses his role as Wales Rugby's first-ever specialist breakdown coach, his most memorable Lions Tour and picks his top 5 players for the 2021 British & Irish Lions First Test team.

You recently joined the Welsh Rugby coaching team as a specialist breakdown coach. How are you finding your new role?

"When the opportunity to take up a coaching role came along I got a really good feeling about it, just because I really missed that elite sporting environment. I really missed being with a group of 40-50 people and walking into a room where everybody’s has exactly the same goal, and they’re all 100% committed. It was an opportunity I just couldn’t turn down.

I’ve found it quite natural and quite easy to settle into the role. Even though I’m not playing, just to be back at the Principality Stadium on the grass and to be contributing to the team... I never thought I’d have that opportunity again.

To be on the pitch standing with the management is an absolute privilege. I look back over the last two or three years at how things have shaped up, and I’m so grateful that things have worked out from doing a few roles which I’m passionate about and enjoy. I feel very fortunate about that."

What skills have you learned from your coaching role at the Welsh Rugby Union?

"You just need that hands on experience. What I’ve learned over the last six months I never would have never picked up from a textbook or a conversation. The difficulty with the environment is that you’ve got a lot of people contributing from a coaching perspective in such little time.

Our meetings are 12 minutes max because players can’t retain too much information. You’ve got very limited time to get your point across. You’ve got to really be able to sharpen the tools, be direct and get your message across as quickly as possible.

If you were coaching at club level you’ve got 10-11 months with players, but at international level you have much less time. It’s a high pressure environment. You might only get 4 or 5 games maximum in a campaign, you don't have 30 like a club would do, so you’ve got to get it right straight away. So that’s been the biggest challenge coaching at professional level.

I’m lucky that I work with a lot of experienced coaches and analysts. Behind a team of 15 there’s a big group of management of about 30 people who all work their socks off to help provide to the team and I love that role. As a player, I didn’t really like being the one who stood out or being that rule with an iron fist kind of guy. I never wanted to be that person. I love contributing to the team, that’s what I miss and that’s what I get to do in this coaching role."

How do you prepare for your coaching sessions with the Wales Rugby team?

"I might have to send out a Whatsapp video to players saying we’ve only got three or four training days and attack, defense and kicking will take up the majority of one meeting. I’ve got to get my contact day points across but I’m not going to have the meeting time. So I’ll look at 3 or 4 hours of footage, condense it into a 2 minute voice over with clips and send it out.

It can almost be half day or days work that goes into a 2 minute video but that’s just the detail of the sport. Also, you’ve got to make drill designs to make as sufficient as possible. If you’ve only got 5 minutes, you've got to have 5% of talking time and 95% of drill time to maximise as much as possible. So that’s a textbook example of what your day is taken up with."

Can you describe the experience of a British & Irish Lions Tour?

"I have experienced nothing ever before like a Lions Tour. It’s just so unique that rivalries are completely thrown aside and suddenly everybody is best friends for two months, all wanting to achieve the same thing. It’s so special. That’s why I’m desperate to be part of the 2021 Lions Tour in any capacity.

The Lions Tour is by far one of my career highlights. The excitement around it is second to none. So without doubt, any opportunity I can get to go to South Africa and be any part of it, no matter how big or small would be an absolute privilege."

What is your favourite memory from the previous Lions Tours you have been on?

"I was 17 when we won in New Zealand [2005 Lions Tour]. I think it was the first time New Zealand had lost at home for forty-two matches and I didn’t know that at the start. At the time it wasn’t enjoyable because there was still another Test and I was so, so desperate to win that game.  

Even though we didn’t win the series, looking back at the achievement of drawing the following two games unbeaten in New Zealand when they won the previous forty-two, it’s probably one of my best.

[Playing against] back-to-back world champions away from home with 6 or 7 weeks preparation and coming back undefeated… when I look back, that was probably one of my most enjoyable moments.

The longer time goes on, the more I appreciate how much of an achievement it was getting an actual win and a Second Test. To say that you captained the Lions and beat the All Blacks in a Test match, out of everything I’ve achieved I think that’s the best."

Which 5 players do you predict will be in the 2021 British & Irish Lions team for the first Test against South Africa?

"Stuart Hog from Scotland, Liam Williams from Wales and Maro Itoje, Tom Curry and Kyle Sinckler from England are five really exciting players. I think they are going to perhaps be in that first Test team. They will be really exciting to watch and I think they will be top players for the next Lions Tour as well."

This or that with Sam Warburton

Apple or Android? Apple

Netflix or Amazon Prime Video? Netflix

Weights or cardio? Weights, everyday

Heavy metal or pop music? Pop music right now

Twitter or Instagram? Instagram

Christmas or birthday? Christmas

Football or cricket? Football, definitely

Winter or summer holiday? Summer holiday

Music or podcasts? Music

Twickenham Stadium or Principality Stadium? Principality Stadium

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