Graham Rowntree has “no doubt” Sam Warburton will play again for the British and Irish Lions before the start of the All Blacks Test series.
Captain Warburton will miss Saturday’s Crusaders clash in Christchurch after picking up an ankle injury in the Lions’ tour-opening 13-7 win over the Provincial Barbarians.
Rowntree admitted the Lions have discussed contingency plans for the captaincy just in case Warburton is not ready to start the first Test on June 24.
But the Lions’ scrum coach revealed Warburton could even be ready to return for Tuesday’s Highlanders match, leaving him plenty of time still to hit top form before the Tests.
“To all the people back home, don’t worry about Sam,” said Rowntree of Warburton.
“We saw him in game one, he hurt his ankle a bit in that game. He’s not able to train fully at the moment, but I’ve watched him train next to us, doing some rehab running, and he’s working hard.
“He’s just not able at the moment to do some of the twisting and turning off the line that’s required for a high-intensity session.
“He’s just having a few days out of the twisting and turning, but he’s training hard.”
Rowntree accepted Warburton will most likely have to prove his fitness by claiming further match action in order to be a candidate to start the first Test.
But the Harlequins coach said the Lions would not set any minimum requirement on how many minutes he must play to be up for selection to face the All Blacks.
Asked if Warburton could win Test selection without playing another minute, Rowntree said: “No, we’ll deal with that as and when it comes.
“At this point I can tell you now, he’s missed a couple of days’ training, it’s not a long-term issue.
“He won’t be the only person who won’t be training fully in the next five days.
“At this point he’s not training fully with us, because we don’t want him twisting and turning and going off the line. But he’s running hard.”
The Lions have plenty of contingency plans for the captaincy should the worst happen and Wales flanker Warburton fail to shake off his ankle problem in time for the Test matches.
The tour squad boasts current Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones, Ireland skipper Rory Best and Greig Laidlaw, who sports Scotland’s armband.
Wales hooker Ken Owens skippered the Lions against the Blues, with Best taking over the captaincy when joining the fray in the second half.
Rowntree revealed the Lions would be unfazed about their captaincy options should Warburton not be in the frame to start the Test series.
“There’s a few candidates who we spoke about initially when we were talking about captaincy, so there’s some other guys we could call upon,” said Rowntree.
“Of course we’ve spoken about that, and the potential of that happening.
“But luckily we’ve picked some good leaders in this tour squad, good leaders.”