Sam Warburton



By James Prince @princerugby15

Christmas is a time for reflection and earlier in the year, we saw the sudden retirement of Wales and British & Irish Lions captain, Sam Warburton.

He is only 29 years old, however, many have hailed him as a ‘rugby great’, but is he really?

How has his career compared to those of the well-established rugby legends? What do the stats reveal? Let us consider a few points from the main aspects of Warburton’s career.

The Lions

On paper, Warburton certainly has an impressive record when it comes to the British & Irish lions. He has never lost a test series, and, in the 2013 tour of Australia, he was the youngest player to ever captain the lions at 24 years of age.

All of that being said; In the first test of the 2017 New Zealand tour, Warburton started on on the bench. In the series decider of the same tour, Warburton did not captain the side to a series victory…it was drawn! in the deciding test of the 2013 tour against Australia, Warburton was not playing due to injury.

My point being here; where Warburton was involved in those Lion’s matches, his results, when he actually played, were pretty average.

Let’s contrast this with an established ‘rugby great’, Martin Johnson, the former England Captain.

Johnson’s Lion’s career yielded a series win in the 1997 tour of South Africa, in which he was captain and played in all three test matches, he was never dropped to the bench and did not have to miss any test matches due to injury.

The Lion’s tour of Australia in 2001 was a hard-fought series with Johnson at the helm. The series was lost, however, again, as opposed to Sam Warburton, Johnson still played in all three test matches, meaning he was able to have full influence on the pitch.

Looking at this comparison, is Warburton’sLion’s career as impressive? No, it just isn’t.

Wales Career

True to say, Warburton’s Wales achievements, in the early days, were an incredible start to his international career. Immediate things that spring to mind are; leading Wales to the semi-final in the 2011 World Cup and the 2012 Six Nations grand slam. These, in themselves, are fantastic achievements.

However, one thing that plagued Warburton’scaptaincy of Wales, was the fact that they were only able to claim a single victory over a top-tier southern hemisphere side, when they beat South Africa12-6, in November 2014. Yes, you could argue that this was not solely Warburton’s fault, however, to make him a ‘rugby great’ you would want to see a few more victories like these under his belt, such as a win over the All Blacks.

When comparing Warburton’s international record with the likes of Brian O’Driscoll, how does it stack up?

Like Warburton, O’Driscoll led Ireland to a grand slam, but also, like Warburton, Ireland’s record against the top-tier Southern Hemisphere sides wasn’t that impressive. What sets O’Driscoll apart from Warburton?

O’Driscoll was a try machine, he is still the the record Six Nations try scorer, a sure way to cement your place as a ‘rugby great’.

I am not, in any way, saying that Warburton should have scored more tries. However, stats relevant to his position should be utterly outstanding. Tackles, turnovers, carries etc. are well within the remit of a true ‘rugby great’ but, unfortunately for Warburton, no records were set there.

Cardiff Blues

At club level, the trophy cabinet is rather bare. Warburton did win a couple of European Challenge cups with Cardiff Blues. These aren’t exactly Heineken/European Champions cups though, are they? Certainly, these are not the trophies of a true ‘rugby great’.

‘Rugby greats’, at club level, still tend to dominate in their domestic leagues and bigger competitions, in this case, Europe. We only need to, again, refer to the achievements of Brian O’Driscoll and Martin Johnson. Heineken cups and League titles are there more than once.  

The Raw Numbers

Finally, let’s take a moment just to look at some of Warburton’s raw captaincy stats compared with the two ‘rugby greats’ we mentioned earlier; Martin Johnson and Brian O’Driscoll:

  Sam Warburton Martin Johnson Brian O’driscoll
Six Nations  2 5 2
League Titles 0 5 4
World Cups 0 1 0
Heineken/European Champions Cups 0 2 3
Lions Victories 2 4 2

We can clearly see, from the above table, thatWarburton’s achievements don’t really come close to the those of the other legendary Northern Hemisphere captain’s. There is clearly a lack of club trophies here. So, in terms of raw numbers, can we say that Warburtons is a great? I certainly wouldn’t say so.

A ‘rugby great’?

In conclusion, with all these points regarding club, international and Lion’s career, is Warburton a ‘rugby great’? No. His record on the pitch and trophies don’t quite get him there, he just doesn’t compare with the legends that came before him.

‘Rugby greats’ have ‘great’ records, with ‘great’ teams and win ‘great’ trophies.

However, this does not mean that Warburton was a terrible player, his team-mates often describe how he can inspire a team with his attitude and his work rate, on and off the pitch. He’s been the face ofWales rugby and the British & Irish Lions for a good number of years.

If I could give Warburton a title, he would be a ‘rugby good’;

He was good’ player with a ‘good’ record, who played for a ‘good’ team, won ‘good’ trophies and is undeniably a ‘good’ man.



I have been producing content for the sports industry for many years now and love nothing more than the competitive nature of any game. An avid football, F1, and golf fan, when I am not giving my opinions on sport, I will most likely be trying to chip out of a bunker.

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