Rugby, retirement and Spurs – catching up with Sam Warburton
Fri 11 October 2019, 15:25|Tottenham Hotspur
So much to talk about with Sam Warburton. The Rugby World Cup is in full flow, his retirement, his autobiography ‘Open Side’ is out, Spurs, his first visit to the new stadium - but let’s start with the question that really matters...
How are the dogs, Sam?
“They’re all good, thanks!” said Sam, bursting out laughing. “We’ve had an addition in the last year, a sheepdog we’ve called Hugo. We’ve got Ledley, Hugo, Dawson, he’s seven, and the other is Alfie, going back to Alfie Conn (star of the 1970s). Unfortunately, we’ve lost three over time – Glenn, Ted and Gus. We’ve had seven in total, all named after Spurs players.
“When I’m walking Ledley, it’s an unusual name, people ask me ‘what’s his name?’ and when I say ‘Ledley’, because we’re in Wales, people say ‘oh, Joe Ledley?’ (former Cardiff, Celtic, Palace and Wales international) and that’s when I have to explain ‘no, Ledley King, the one and only’...”
A schoolmate of Gareth Bale and Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas in Cardiff, Sam, still only 31, retired in July last year. In his own words, he ‘lived my childhood dream’ – and what a dream.
First capped by Wales in 2009, Sam, an openside flanker, earned 74 caps and captained his country a record 49 times. Under his lead, Wales won back-to-back Six Nations titles in 2012 and 2013 and claimed the Grand Slam (winning every game) in 2012. He played in the 2011 and 2015 World Cups, reaching the semi-finals in 2011.
That wasn’t all though. Sam was handed arguably the biggest accolade in northern hemisphere rugby when he was named captain of the British Lions not once, but twice – 2013 and 2017. The youngest-ever Lions captain in 2013 (aged 24), he led two unbeaten tours to Australia in 2013 and New Zealand in 2017. He was awarded an OBE in 2018.
In rugby terms, he did the lot – no wonder he’s happy in retirement! “I think a lot of sportsmen struggle when they retire, but I’ve loved it!” he said, speaking to us after a pundit’s stint on ITV’s World Cup coverage. “I lived my childhood dream and maybe that’s why I’m content in retirement.
“I’ve a young family, a three-year-old daughter and that is my priority. I don’t want to be coming home in neck braces or walking on crutches so I can’t look after her, so my priorities have changed. I’m lucky to have fallen into other lines of work that I love as well. I’m still involved in the game, so lucky in that perspective as well.
“I just miss the glory of winning, having 80,000 fans cheering for you, getting that glory and sharing it with team-mates. That is amazing. That’s what I miss the most. I’m still there at the matches, still there at the coal face, but now I can enjoy the occasion more, enjoy the environment. I can be a fan again!
“It’s interesting. Even now, I see the highlights of previous World Cups when the programmes start and I think ‘wow, I’ve done that twice!’ You don’t see it from this side of the fence, and it seems all the more amazing to watch it as a fan, yet quite surreal having done it twice as a player. I often think to myself ‘was that me?’.”
Sam joined us at White Hart Lane and Wembley when he had time in recent seasons, but clear of those commitments, he was able to enjoy his first visit to the new stadium when we entertained Crystal Palace last month. It’s fair to say he was somewhat taken aback when this magnificent structure first came into view.
“It was awesome,” he said. “It was my first time at the stadium, and I was like a star-struck little kid. I treated myself to a little hospitality with my brother and my dad - the hospitality is amazing - and as soon as we got in, all three of us were straight on our phones, taking pictures and videos.
“From the outside, it’s just absolutely immaculate, the attention to detail everywhere, the cockerels carved into the wall, no stone has been left unturned. It’s the best stadium I’ve seen all across the world, and I’ve played in a few! It was a brilliant win as well, the perfect day for us.”
Returning to rugby and the World Cup, the quarter-final line-up is almost complete in Japan with England already in the last eight and Wales poised to join them, likely as winners of Group D, which will mean a quarter-final against France. In that case, England will face Australia.
Sam is naturally backing Wales all the way but told us at the start of the tournament: “Of the home nations, England look the strongest at the moment, but it can all change. There is always a surprise in the World Cup. For me, England are in that top pack of three with New Zealand and South Africa. I’m sure they will end up meeting each other somewhere along the line.”
Sam's autobiography 'Open Side' is out now...