Sam Warburton makes bold British and Irish Lions prediction for ‘red hot’ England youngster

Colin Newboult
Former Wales and Lions captain Sam Warburton in 2023.

Former Wales and Lions captain Sam Warburton in 2023.

British and Irish Lions legend Sam Warburton believes that England rookie Chandler Cunningham-South has the “full package” and will be in contention for the 2025 series.

The ex-captain, who led the side on the 2013 and 2017 tours, was effusive with his praise for the 20-year-old.

Cunningham-South made his England debut against Italy in the 27-24 Six Nations victory and impressed in his brief cameo.

The flanker’s physicality was evident and Warburton expects him to be very much pushing for selection when the Lions tour Australia in 2025.

“Serious player”

“I saw this kid play pre-Christmas because Harlequins were playing Cardiff,” he said. “There was one kid who stood out and I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, how is he not in the England set-up?’

“Fast forward to the Six Nations and he came off the bench the other day for England and had 15 minutes – Chandler Cunningham-South is a serious player.

“He’s 6ft 5ins, explosive, big, aggressive and technically very good as well. There are not many No.6s around and there is always room for an enforcer in your pack.

“You need someone who can spearhead the effort. Joe McCarthy is doing that now for Ireland and Cunningham-South can be that player at six who is really disruptive. In 18 months, he is going to be red hot and in the conversation (for the Lions).”

Cunningham-South has once again been named in England’s matchday 23 for their Six Nations clash with Wales on Saturday.

He will be looking to make a further impression at Twickenham and Warburton believes that the Harlequins youngster has everything you need from a back-row to be a success at the highest level.

Size and mentality

“To play international rugby you have got to have a certain athletic ability at the top level. Look at the top back-row players who are having an impact; you have got (Caelan) Doris, Jac Morgan, Ben Earl, Aaron Wainwright. These guys are exceptional athletes, very physical and very tough,” he said.

“I look at Cunningham-South and he has got all that – plus size. Probably the biggest and most athletic back-row the home nations have at the minute.

“He’s only 20 which means he has still got another 18 months of growth physically. And he has got 18 months of just getting Test match experience, playing with England and playing with Quins.

“He has just got that athletic ability and size I haven’t seen present in any of the home nations, and the important bit is he has got the mentality, the bit between his teeth, that aggressiveness you need at this level. And you can’t coach aggressiveness.

“He seems to have the full package; I just hope he gets some game time. Great athlete, good in defence, good ball carrier. He could be that massive six I think the Lions could really benefit from and be destructive.”

Canterbury ambassador Sam Warburton was speaking at the Canterbury British and Irish Lions preview event, which gave retailers the first look at the 2025 Lions jersey.

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