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Warburton praise for Howley

Sam Warburton has praised Wales boss Rob Howley's decision to name his team a week early for next Saturday's RBS 6 Nations clash against Italy.

Warburton, captain when Wales reached the 2011 World Cup semi-finals and for last season's Six Nations title and Grand Slam-winning campaign, is expected to be on bench duty in Rome.

He missed the 16-6 victory over France because of a shoulder injury, and then less than 72 hours later interim head coach Howley announced an unchanged starting line-up that included Ryan Jones continuing as skipper.

It was not exactly what the doctor ordered for Warburton, especially in a British and Irish Lions year, but he has never been an individual to put himself before the team.

Had Warburton been fit then he would have started at Stade de France, although probably in an unfamiliar number six shirt alongside Justin Tipuric and number eight Toby Faletau.

"It was a great win out in France - I thought the team were absolutely awesome," he said.

"And I thought it was good when they announced the team early because it has given us extra time to prepare.

"It was quite a smart call and we might as well take advantage of this two-week break in Six Nations games. We have had eight or 10 sessions, rather than maybe three, perhaps.

"It should be one of the best-prepared we have been for a match because we have had that extra time together."

And although Lions speculation remains - some pundits believe that Warburton has lost ground in the race for places to tour Australia - he added: "It's something I will just have to bat off.

"I have got enough on my plate at the moment. It (Lions selection) is going to be, for any player involved, a special moment. But no-one is mentioning the 'L word'.

"The focus in this Six Nations camp is purely on the next match, and if there was any talk on that (Lions), players would be the first ones to give someone a slap in the face."

Howley will confirm his bench composition on Tuesday, with Warburton and fit-again lock Alun-Wyn Jones both set for roles as Wales target a victory that would keep them in the Six Nations title race.

Warburton and Jones trained fully on Monday as Wales continued their preparations before heading to Rome on Thursday.

"I still behave the same way that I do whether I was captain or whether I am not, in training, in the team room and sessions. I won't change my approach. I will try to continue the same way as I always have done," Warburton said.

"I just focus on the rugby and try to prioritise the best I can.

"When you are captain there are other things outside rugby like media commitments and that, so I guess I can just focus on Italy now and hopefully if I can get on the bench I can start looking at that position.

"You don't know what is going to happen and you haven't got a clue how the season is going to pan out. All you have got to do is stay focused and try to do the job the best you can.

"The rest will look after itself. If you start looking further on, then I think you will fall short.

"I have been looking at my games and things and I don't think there are any obvious mistakes. If I was slipping off tackles and getting smashed about in the contact area and that, I would be concerned.

"You have constantly got to change and evolve with the game, really.

"I said to my parents the other day that when things are plain-sailing, Wales are doing well and you get a lot of positive press it's happy days, but you are never going to have a 10 or 12-year career when you are just constantly on the way up.

"Things and blips do happen, and I knew that would happen before maybe people start questioning your form or whatever, but you have got to completely ignore it.

"I talk to the coaches about performances, you look at the video analysis and work with the players you are playing with and try to figure things out. That's what matters, really."