Ex-skipper Ryan is hailed by Warburton
SAM Warburton affords himself a wry smile as he recalls the moment when he was offered the Wales captaincy.
Warren Gatland's proposal in May 2011 came as a complete surprise to the then 22-year-old flanker, who admits he "hated" captaincy at the time.
It is a strong word, but one which captured Warburton's feelings about the prospect of skippering any team at the time.
He wrestled with his doubts, however, and accepted the offer. Having since led Wales to a Grand Slam and a World Cup semi-final, it seems Warburton made the right decision.
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"In hindsight now, if I would have had said no to the captaincy, I would have been sitting here gutted," he says.
"I'm over the moon that I've done it.
"I do enjoy the captaincy now. This year's unusual — I'm bound to enjoy it because we've been successful.
"I know captains who have done it in unsuccessful times as well. We've had a few dodgy periods in recent years, so I'm sure it wouldn't have been as enjoyable then.
"It will be a big challenge to see what happens if something does go wrong. It's easier captaining a winning side and I haven't experienced being on a heavily losing team, so I'm pretty fortunate in that way.
"Those experiences will come along and I will learn from them. I'm fortunate to be in a good squad — as captain, it makes my job easier."
One former skipper who has endured some lows as well as sampling the soaring highs of international rugby is Ryan Jones.
The Ospreys back-rower led Wales to the 2008 Grand Slam, but was also the skipper as they suffered a dip in form in subsequent years.
The experience appears only to have strengthened Jones's resolve, as he has been one of the Ospreys and Wales's outstanding players over the last year.
What may be less evident to most observers, however, is the profound effect he has had on Warburton.
"Ryan Jones has been a huge influence on my career," Warburton says.
"I don't know if he knows it but I think he's probably the best captain I've played with.
"His experience and knowledge of the game is second to none and, when he does play, I'm a lot more relaxed because he's so experienced and someone to look to on the pitch."
One of Warburton's main concerns about assuming the Wales captaincy at 22 was the fact he would be leading players older and more experienced than him.
He was also apprehensive about giving team-talks in a changing room where a number of his team-mates were former captains themselves.
But as Warburton soon discovered, the likes of Jones and Matthew Rees were to provide him with priceless advice.
"You need guys like Ryan, who has been playing top-flight rugby for the best part of a decade," the Blues flanker adds.
"It's really important to have those blokes in the team. The youngsters get a lot of credit but guys like Ryan are invaluable.
"They are getting a bit more recognition now, but they deserve a lot more credit for the World Cup and Grand Slam performances."
With Dan Lydiate facing a lengthy absence with an ankle injury, Jones is expected to feature for Wales at blindside flanker in the forthcoming autumn internationals.
He filled the same role with aplomb last season, while he also proved himself to be an excellent Test lock.
Jones's versatility and skills make him an indispensable member of both Ospreys and Wales squads and, in Warburton's eyes, the 31-year-old is one the leading players of his generation.
"I think Ryan is one of the most influential Welsh rugby players of the last ten years," the current skipper says.
"I think he's the joint most capped captain, which is an amazing stat and speaks volumes of his experience and what he's like as a player.
"He's had some negative press and been criticised, but he's bounced back and he's playing some of the best rugby he's ever played. He's an integral part of the Welsh squad, and he's got some great mental strength to bounce back from those lows to show such good form."