WALES captain Sam Warburton believes his cameo against Italy was the perfect tune-up for a return to the blood and thunder of Test rugby, writes Chris Kirwan.
The openside flanker made his return from a shoulder injury off the bench against the Azzurri at the Millennium Stadium, coming on for blindside Dan Lydiate in the final quarter.
But he will have 7 on his back against Ireland at the Aviva Stadium this weekend after being given the nod ahead of Justin Tipuric.
Warburton has not started a game since Wales played Australia on November 30 but is confident that he will be up to the task against a physical Irish pack.
“I felt good against Italy, although it’s always difficult coming off the bench and getting up to speed with a Test match,” said the 25-year-old.
“It was good to get a 15-minute hit out, to get the lungs going and to have to work hard getting up off the floor. It’s difficult to replicate that in training.
“It takes maybe a game to get that timing back at the breakdown which is why I was glad to blow away the cobwebs against Italy so that I am ready to go this weekend.”
Warburton has been brought back to add some physicality against an Ireland side that love a battle at the breakdown.
The Irish may be without injured Lions star Sean O’Brien, who replaced Warburton at openside for the Third Test against Australia last summer, but boast a formidable back row of Peter O’Mahony, Chris Henry and Jamie Heaslip.
"I have always found Ireland one of the more difficult sides to play against,” said Warburton.
"The game is a bit more open, it is physical at the breakdown. It ticks all the boxes for a Test match.
"If I had to pick games that I really look forward to playing in, Ireland games are always there."