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UK NewsSam Warburton book: I phoned my mum in the middle of the night and secretly tried to quit the Lions tour before second Test

15:56  11 september  2019
15:56  11 september  2019 Source:   walesonline.co.uk

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The second Test was lost by the narrowest of margins, but the Lions bounced back to record an In this book , Warburton relives the entire Lions experience, from the moment he learned he had been chosen to captain the side to the time he got to raise the trophy at the end of the tour , and the huge

Sam Warburton book: I phoned my mum in the middle of the night and secretly tried to quit the Lions tour before second Test © Huw Evans Picture Agency Sam Warburton almost walked out on the Lions

Sam Warburton has penned his memoirs in a refreshingly honest new book - including a never heard before assessment of the Lions tour to New Zealand.

Warren Gatland's side drew 1-1, having beaten the All Blacks in Wellington and drawn a titanic decider in Auckland the following week.

But while he accepts a squared series was a good result, Warburton outlines why the Lions players could have done more to win by preparing better.

And he reveals for the first time the extraordinary story of how, beset with pain, he considered walking out of the tour the night before skippering the side in the second Test, only to be persuaded not to.

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This is Warburton in his own words.

You can read Day One's extracts here on the infamous 2011 World Cup

Friday, 30 June 2017: The Rydges Hotel, Wellington, New Zealand, two in the morning - the day before the Lions second Test

Can’t sleep. The witching hour. The darkness comes flooding in, and it’s all I can do to stop it drowning me.

Everything hurts. My body, my mind, my heart. Everything.

I’m a wreck.

It’s easier to list the parts of me that aren’t in pain. My eyelashes. That’s pretty much it.

I’ve had more than 20 injuries over my career. Before I go out to play these days, I have to neck pain tablets while the physios strap me up like an Egyptian mummy. I have to stand there butt naked in front of them, cupping my twig and berries, while they bind my knees, my ankles, my shoulders and my elbows.

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British Lions captain Sam Warburton with coach Warren GatlandCredit: Getty Images. For Warburton , team bonding will be crucial – as he tries to unite 16 Englishmen, 12 Welshmen, 11 Irishmen and two Scots. Although he doesn’t quite want to recreate the wicked humour in the Cardiff

Sam Warburton returns to the Lions first team for the Second Test against New Zealand. The Lions tour captain, now installed as the Test captain as well for tomorrow’s make-or-break game in Wellington, does not want any distractions during his time at the head of the pride.

It’s not just tonight. It’s the relentless grind: week on week, month on month, year on year. Smash and be smashed. Try to recover. Smash and be smashed again.

The equivalent of strapping myself into a car like a crash test dummy and driving it at a wall every weekend.

I get out of bed. Shards of pain as my feet touch the floor. I push myself slowly upright, gritting my teeth as the aches flare and settle.

If my body’s only at around 70 per cent fitness, my mind feels around half that. I’m exhausted, but also wired: antsy, yet craving rest. Yes, these are the small hours when everything seems worse, but even in broad daylight the doubts and questions are never far away.

Sam Warburton shouldn’t be captain.

Sam Warburton shouldn’t be playing.

Sam Warburton’s past it.

What I know is that there are plenty of people out there who think that.

Sam Warburton book: I phoned my mum in the middle of the night and secretly tried to quit the Lions tour before second Test © INPHO/Dan Sheridan Sam Warburton arrives in the Westpac Stadium dressing room ahead of the second NZ v Lions Test

What I fear is that they might be right.

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" I never saw myself as a captain," Sam Warburton says with distinctive honesty. Stepping away from his triumphant role as the leader of the Lions I texted my mum and said that before a game against New Zealand in an autumn international. There was so much pressure going into that game because

I take one step, gingerly, then another, and another. Walking – hobbling, more like – across the carpet over to the window.

I pull back the curtains and look out. Below me is the Wellington waterfront. It’s quiet and empty, but earlier this evening it was packed, as it will be tomorrow night.

Many will be wearing red rugby shirts and will have saved up for years to come all the way across the world just to watch us play.

I’ve played in some big games, but nothing that comes remotely close to this. It should be the highlight of my career. It feels like anything but.

This is a sport that’s been the biggest part of me for almost two decades, that has largely defined me. It’s a game I love. Rather, it’s a game I thought I loved. Right now, I hate it.

I want to be one of those fans, on the booze and singing their hearts out, with no problem more pressing than who gets the next round in. Instead, I’m here, torturing myself with questions to which I have no answer.

Why? Why am I doing this to myself? Why am I putting myself through all this pain, all this pressure, when I could be doing something – anything – else?

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Why am I in a job which right now I detest?

Round and round and round. Physical stress, mental stress and emotional stress, all working on and off each other.

Two in the morning, and no-one to talk to.

I need to talk to someone. There are several people I could call, but there’s only one person I know will really understand.

I dial her number.

‘Sam?’ Her voice is full of concern. It’s lunchtime back home in Cardiff. She knows what time it is where I am, and that I wouldn’t be phoning for no reason.

‘I’ve had enough, Mum.’ My throat is tight with the effort of not bursting into tears. ‘I really have. I’m just going to go.’

‘Go where?’

‘To the airport. Do a bunk. Leave all my kit here, get on the first plane home. I’ll be in the air before they realise I’ve gone.’

I didn’t, of course. Can you imagine the headlines?

LIONS CAPTAIN DOES MIDNIGHT FLIT.

WARBURTON QUITS.

THE RUNAWAY SKIPPER.

And no-one knew, apart from my mum. She talked me down: told me that I didn’t owe anything to anyone, so all I had to do was get through this week and the next and then the series would be over and I could do what I wanted.

She was right, of course. She knew the way love for, and hatred of, rugby oscillated within me, because they did for her too. She loved what the game had given me and the pleasure I’d got from it, but she hated seeing me beaten up, or under the knife, or criticised.

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No one knew, apart from my mum.

Still Friday June 30, but it's morning

Not much sleep, but feeling a bit better having spoken to Mum.

We have our captain’s run at the Jerry Collins Stadium. I would love to have played against Collins – he retired before I began my international career. A huge guy known as ‘the Terminator’ for the ferocity of his tackling, but off the pitch a lovely man who’d go into bars and chat to fans, who once played for Barnstaple seconds while on holiday in Devon just because he fancied a game and who was in a car crash at the age of only 34.

His last act was to throw himself over his baby daughter and rescue her.

It’s some perspective, a reminder of something that I badly need to remember right now: no matter how important tomorrow is, it’s still just a game.

Warburton, of course, did play for the Lions and produced a captain's performance as they won 24-21. It set up an epic 15-15 draw in the Auckland decider and last-gasp drama after Owen Farrell had leveled matters, only for Ken Owens to then be penalised


Two minutes left. Titanic match. Not over yet. Beauden Barrett kicks off, Liam (Williams) and (Kieran) Read jump for ball, it comes off Liam. Instinctively Ken catches the ball – he’s had a split second to react – and in the same movement he opens his hands and drops it, knowing that he’s offside.

Too late. Romain Poite blows. Penalty to New Zealand.

I can’t believe it. This is just so textbook New Zealand it’s ridiculous: to win it right at the end after everything we’ve thrown at them, after we’ve been toe-to-toe for the best part of four hours and you can hardly fit a cigarette-paper between us.

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Sam Warburton book: I phoned my mum in the middle of the night and secretly tried to quit the Lions tour before second Test © INPHO/James Crombie Ken Owens appeals to Romain Poite

Poite seems to be consulting with the TMO. I go over and ask him to check Read’s challenge in the air, to see whether he’d fouled Liam when they were jumping for the ball. It’s an air shot at this stage, but I’ve got nothing to lose. If you don’t spend your chips with two minutes to go and the series in the balance, when do you spend them?

Read comes over to where I’m standing, next to Poite. We bump fists lightly, recognition that we’re at the centre of something very special.

‘Wow,’ he says. ‘This is rugby.’

There’s so much to unpick there at pretty much every stage, almost frame by frame. The whole thing hinges on this. Deliberate offside is a penalty, but accidental offside’s only a scrum.

No professional player, used to catching hundreds of balls in training every week, can decide in a fraction of a second not to catch a ball that comes to them; to do so would be to override an instinct drilled so deep within them as to be more or less muscle memory by now.

There’s about half a minute of Poite discussing things with the TMO before he comes over to Read and me.

‘We have a deal,’ he says ‘about the offside 16.’ It’s maybe not the best word to use, ‘deal’ – it implies some sort of agreement cooked up – but I think he means ‘decision’ and, in the heat of the moment speaking in a language that’s not his own, he picked slightly the wrong word.

Sam Warburton book: I phoned my mum in the middle of the night and secretly tried to quit the Lions tour before second Test © PA The referee speaks with British and Irish Lions' Sam Warburton and New Zealand's Kieran Read

‘He did not deliberately play the ball, OK? It was an accidental offside.’

Read’s not happy. ‘No, no, no.’

But Poite’s made his mind up. I intertwine my fingers together so the boys can see. Scrum. Get in position and pack down before he can change his mind again.

The Lions hold out from a NZ bombardment in those closing two minutes, before Poite blows the final whistle. Warburton wanted extra time, describes it as a ‘weird anti climax’

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I try to care more about my health lately: I try to avoid unhealthy and fat food. Also I train every morning and go to the gym. Thank you for your letter. I 'm sorry for not writing you for so long. I spent time helping my dad in the garage. My idea of a perfect weekend is totally different from yours.

In 2013, I shared the trophy lift with Alun Wyn. Now I share it with Read. We take the trophy between us, each with one hand on one handle, and raise it together. I tug it towards me, playfully. He laughs and tugs it back, neither of us quite ready to quit fighting for it even now.

‘Would you have gone to extra-time?’ I ask him.

‘Absolutely.’

I wish we could have pulled rank. Perhaps at this level, with everyone out on their feet, it would have been dangerous to go another 20 minutes, so I’d have played a golden point: first team to score wins, simple as that. Try, penalty, drop goal, doesn’t matter. As a spectacle, a climax, that would have been unbelievable.

(Jerome) Kaino walks past us. ‘Shall we get the players in?’ he asks. ‘Each of us together?’

It’s a great idea. We call everyone and get them to mix, so we’re not just sitting in our own teams but in among the opposition and vice-versa. An iconic image of two teams that took each other from pillar to post and back again. Forty-six guys who gave everything, won nothing but came away with something special.

They couldn’t separate us over three matches and they can’t separate us here.

Sam Warburton book: I phoned my mum in the middle of the night and secretly tried to quit the Lions tour before second Test © INPHO/Billy Stickland The picture that meant so much to Warburton, Lions and NZ players mingle as one

We could have won, no matter how unlikely people thought it. We could have won, and part of me will always be annoyed that we didn’t.

We certainly could have done more. It was the pinnacle of everyone’s career, and it lasted six weeks. For six weeks you’d have thought it possible to dedicate yourself totally to the cause, wouldn’t you?

For six weeks, you could leave no stone unturned when it came to making sure you performed at your absolute peak: eat right, sleep right, stay off the booze as it’s bad for recovery from inflammation, stay away from the blue light of mobile phones, and so on.

But I reckon only 20 per cent of the boys could honestly say they did that for the duration of those six weeks, which, given that we took 41 players, means around eight players. Just over half a starting XV, just over a third of a match-day 23.

When you think how close we came, would it have made a difference – would it have made the crucial difference – if everybody had done that? Very possibly.

And it’s no accident that some of the ones who did apply themselves properly were among the best performers on that tour: Maro (Itoje) and Alun Wyn in the second row, Johnny (Sexton) and Faz (Owen Farrell) at 10 and 12.

It would have been nice to have had a neat and tidy ending, but sometimes you don’t get them.

A drawn series is very rare. In the modern era, it’s unique. As Gats says, draws aren’t the worst thing in the world; they create scenes like our joint team photo, which expresses the joy of rugby better than anything else I’ve seen.

That photo, and the result which led to it, will always set the 2017 Lions apart.

That’s not a bad way to be remembered. Not a bad way at all.

Open Side, by Sam Warburton, is published by HarperCollins, price £20.

SAM BOOK SIGNING SESSIONS

If you want to meet Sam Warburton, he will be doing the following book signings...

Tuesday Sept 17, In Conversation and Q&A with The Chepstow Bookshop 7pm.

Wednesday 18 September, book signing Griffin Books in Penarth 6pm.

Tuesday 24 September, book signing at Tesco Extra Bridgend (in partnership also with Braces Bread product launch) 4-6pm.

Wednesday 25 September, book signing at Tesco Extra Cardiff (in partnership also with Braces Bread product launch) 4-6pm.

Antonio: I nearly quit football.
Michail Antonio has revealed how financial difficulties and a lack of opportunities during his teenage years left him on the verge of quitting football. The West Ham forward has just embarked on his fifth season in the Premier League, during which time he's amassed 112 appearances and scored 26 goals for the Hammers. Antonio's time at the highest level of the English game is a far cry from his humble upbringing in football at Tooting & Mitcham United, where the pressures of life led him to question whether he was on the right path pursuing a career in football.

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