Sam Warburton

Maro Itoje backed by Sam Warburton to captain 2021 side

Former Wales skipper Sam Warburton, who led the Lions to victory in Australia in 2013 and to a drawn series with New Zealand in 2017, says being captain of the party would "just suit" Itoje.

"I was so impressed with him in 2017," Warburton told BBC Sport.

"I would follow him into battle."

Alun Wyn Jones, who captained Wales to the Six Nations title and is targeting his fourth tour, is the heavy favourite to lead the Lions against the Springboks.

"Don't get me wrong, if Alun Wyn was captain I wouldn't bat an eyelid," Warburton added.

Sam Warburton retires from rugby

Warburton, who was capped 74 times by his country and played five tests for the British and Irish Lions, led Wales in a record 49 matches.

The flanker recently returned to pre-season training with his club Cardiff Blues.

"Unfortunately, after a long period of rest and rehabilitation the decision to retire from rugby has been made with my health and wellbeing as a priority as my body is unable to give me back what I had hoped for on my return to training," Warburton told the WRU website.

Warburton to miss Six Nations

Warburton hasn't played since July, when he captained the British and Irish Lions to a series draw in New Zealand.

Following rest, he had neck surgery in September so he could return to club action in the new year and be available for another Six Nations tilt.

But Warburton and the Welsh Rugby Union decided that when he returns he should do so free of all aches and pains, so he had his left knee operated on.

Wales' Warburton expecting to miss Six Nations

Warburton was ruled out for four months after undergoing neck surgery on a "long-standing issue" in September.

The flanker led the British and Irish Lions to a 1-1 series draw against New Zealand in June and July, despite struggling with an ankle injury in the build-up to the tour.

Having taken time to get up to speed ahead of the Tests against the All Blacks, Warburton does not anticipate being in a position to play any part for Warren Gatland's side in February and March.

Warburton admits he could miss Test

Warburton returns to skipper the Lions against the Highlanders on Tuesday having shaken off the issue that kept him out of Saturday's victory over the Crusaders.

However, the Cardiff Blues flanker says he must prove he is firing on all cylinders if he is to make Warren Gatland's starting XV in Auckland on June 24.

"If I play Tuesday and I still feel I'm a bit undercut, then I might not be ready for that first Test," said Warburton.

Gatland wants his captain rested

Welsh rugby union side Cardiff Blues travel to Stade Francais this weekend for their European Champions Cup semi-final play-off and a victory will see them face either Northampton or Gloucester in the final on May 26th.

Warburton, who is on the mend after sustaining a knee injury in April, will captain his second Lions squad and Gatland said that the Welshman must focus on his fitness.

"It would be ideal for us if he didn't play for the Blues," Gatland told British media.

Warburton hopeful of Lions selection

"I'd love to be in that (Lions) squad and I can't look past further than that. There's so much competition in the squad," Warburton said.

"I would love to go on tour and I've always respected the players who have gone on multiple Lions tours and that's something I'd love and try and do."

The New Zealand tour includes a total of 10 fixtures to be played from June 3 to July 8, including three tests against the All Blacks and five matches against New Zealand Super Rugby teams.