The skies over Cardiff may be grey but the disposition of Dan Lydiate and Sam Warburton is anything but. And why shouldn’t Wales’ two young flankers be happy? They were standout performers for their country in this year’s RBS 6 Nations, they have formed a dynamic partnership on the pitch and they’re good mates off it. We chat to the pair of aces…
RUGBY WORLD: You two seem to have great banter with each other…
SAM WARBURTON: We have a good laugh. Every time Wales have a Test, the combinations are put together so as flankers we’ve roomed together a few times now.
DAN LYDIATE: He makes the teas!
SW: We like a chocolate-coated protein bar and a cup of tea, then we watch TV like The Weakest Link.
DL: We have good conversations, too, and debates – about power cleans and so on.
SW: He talks about farming and shows me pictures of tractors on his phone.
DL: I want to take him out there and show him what real work is.
RW: So are you competitive when it comes to power cleans and gym work?
SW: Dan would win by a country mile, excuse the pun. He’s the strongest guy in the squad.
DL (shaking his head): He’s bigging me up – you can tell we’re tight! I suppose weights help in a way, but it’s completely different when you’re in a game; when you’re on the field it’s not just about brute strength.
SW: In campaigns like the Six Nations, mineand Dan’s bodies take a battering so a lot of training is about injury management so we’re fit for the weekend. Some of the guys had a couple of social beers after some games, but we’re not big drinkers and our bodies were in bits so we went back to our room and had a protein shake and chat. I used to be in the gym a lot, but after talking to some of the senior players I came to realise that the most important thing is to be fit for weekend, not to be the strongest in the squad. You can’t push your body too far.
DL: As you play more rugby you can’t lift as regularly as you want to. I spend all of pre-season getting as strong as I can for September and then I’ll dig in and use what I’ve built up. Hopefully that gets me through the season.
SW: After a game it can take 48 hours before you feel normal again. It’s all about recovery. We might be held back from contact as our shoulders can be sore.
RW: Did you enjoy your run in the Wales starting XV?
SW: They’ve put faith in us and we appreciate that. There are a lot more senior back-row players being left out of the team and I still feel privileged to be picked.
DL: We don’t take our places for granted. After games we’ll always talk about how it went and whether we think we did enough for next week.
SW: People keep talking about us and we’ve got lot of publicity but I never buy the newspapers…
DL: I buy them and give them to him because he’s tight! I highlight the articles he’s in.
SW: With the press, even if 1,000 people read it, it’s still only one person’s opinion so I don’t take much notice.
DL: We want to push on and get better as players. I’m sure Sam feels he’s nowhere near where he wants to be as a player. We’re not here for a long time, so we’ve got to make the most of it.
RW: What’s the biggest difference between regional and international rugby?
SW: The speed the game is played at. If you look at the stats in a regional game, your match instances – the number of times you’re involved – range from 40 to 60. In international rugby your involvement is up to 80 or 90. That’s a huge increase sometimes. The Magners League is the first step, then the Heineken Cup, and it’s another big step to international rugby. That’s why I respect someone like George North coming in and having a really good game on his debut, scoring two tries.
DL: Physically it’s the same, it’s just the speed it’s played at.
RW: Are you two vocal in team meetings?
DL: I don’t say much. If there’s something I blatantly want to get off my chest I’ll get it across, but most of the time I keep quiet and get on with my work.
SW: We’re naturally quite quiet people. The longer we’re here, the more we’ll contribute, but for now we keep our heads down and do whatever we can to get picked. We’re quiet guys off the pitch, so it’s about what we feel comfortable with. Before a game some guys will bang the walls but we just sit quietly. I listen to a few songs I listened to as a kid.
DL: The hokey-cokey!
SW: More heavy metal, American bands like Anthrax and Metallica.
DL: I just take it all in and get in my own frame of mind ready to play the match.
RW: What do you bring to the Wales team?
DL: Good looks! And (nodding towards Sam) personality. Strong arms as well!
SW: What does Dan bring? On the defensive side of things, he’s the biggest hitter in the squad and the coaches look at Dan as an offensive tackler. So Dan’s tackling is a big plus.
DL: Sam’s nickname is Count Jackula for his jackling ability. He’s good in the contact area to be fair. That’s every seven’s thing – the breakdown. If we come up against him at regional level, he’s a man to target as he slows down a lot of ball and I expect international teams do the same.
RW: Do you think you work well together?
DL: It’s weird. We never played in the age groups together, but in our first Wales game together we just clicked really quickly.
SW: I know how Dan plays now. I know that if a player is running at Dan that player is likely to be knocked backwards nine times out of ten, so I can then plan what I’m going to do, whether or not to compete at the breakdown. We will often look back at the video and we’re not far away from each other most of the time – we hunt in pairs. It does work pretty well and we’ll also have a word in each other’s ear during a game if we think a certain situation is an opportunity for a turnover. We are both young so we’re happy to talk to each other whereas we don’t want to seem patronising or bigger than our boots with the older, more experienced players.
RW: What’s the biggest thing you’ve learnt so far?
SW: I’m learning all the time and the little things I pick up from international rugby I take back to my region, then things get ingrained over time. Probably the biggest thing I take from international rugby is confidence.
DL: When you come up against New Zealand and hold your own against teams like that, it’s great for confidence.
RW: Who has been your toughest opponent?
SW: Richie McCaw is called the best openside flanker in the world, but the one I had most trouble with was David Pocock. I’ve never played against anyone so aggressive on the ball. His upper-body strength and body position in contact are second to none. It was a massive test for me. I spent the whole 80 minutes constantly watching for where he was – man-marking someone for 80 minutes is as mentally tiring as it is physically tiring.
DL: Sam’s played against him too and the hardest player I’ve come up against to tackle is Henry Tuilagi. He’s a man-mountain.
SW: I’d agree with that – he’s the hardest person to tackle.
RW: Have you been thinking about the World Cup?
SW: I was really disappointed in the hospital last summer when I found out I had a broken jaw so I was going to miss the tour. It was all doom and gloom, but then I thought I’d have a chance to go
to New Zealand next year for the World Cup. I’ve always wanted to go there.
DL: I went on a family holiday in 2005 for the Lions tour. The World Cup’s always been in the back of my mind, but I just concentrate on the next game and I want to keep going well.
SW: The squad is maturing and getting better all the time, so we’ve a good chance of getting to the latter stages. The main thing is to stay injury-free and look after yourself. The quarter-finals is our minimum target. We’re probably the second favourites in the group behind South Africa, but we’re confident we could beat South Africa. If we play to our potential, we can beat them.
DL: If we click, then we can beat anyone.
SW: Everything is in place. We’ve got training camps in Poland, Tests in the summer – everyone will be in the best condition of their careers.
RW: What are your World Cup memories?
SW: My best memory is of 2003 when Jonny Wikinson dropped the goal to win it – and I was supporting England at the time. Both my parents are English so I’m not like other Welsh people who hate the English and I enjoyed watching that final. I never thought I’d be able to take part in a World Cup. If someone had told me that at the time, I wouldn’t have believed them and now it’s within my grasp I’m so excited.
DL: My father is English so I’ve not got a big thing about hating England either, although when I’m playing them I obviously want to beat them, like any team. I just remember the last World Cup and Wales being beaten by Fiji. That was a big loss for us.
RW: What do you guys do in your spare time?
DL: If I have a couple of days off I head back to see the family and do a bit on the farm. The rugby environment can be a bit of a fishbowl, so it’s good to do something out of it. The drive up to Mid-Wales from Newport can clear my head, so every couple of weeks I go there and switch off.
SW: I appreciate any day off; I put my feet up and watch TV. I’ve just bought a new drum kit too, so I want to make better progress with that and play a bit more.
DL: I want to learn the guitar.
RW: Perhaps you could form a band with Jamie Roberts…
SW: Jamie’s too cheesy for us and would cost too much money.
DL: We could be Simon and Garfunkel.
SW: Or Robson and Jerome.
RW: What are your post-rugby plans?
DL: I do want to farm. My older brother works it at the minute, so I’d go into partnership with him and live off the fruit of the land in God’s country! We lamb 700 and have 500 acres.
SW: I’m quite keen on property. I like watching Property Ladder, Escape to the Country, Grand Designs, so I’d like to get into that.
RW: Is there anything you’d like to add?
SW: I think we’ve covered all the bases. Just that he’s weird.
DL: I prefer special.
A few quick fire questions with Sam…
This article appeared in the June 2011 issue of Rugby World Magazine.
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