British and Irish Lions captain Sam Warburton has been warned by coach Warren Gatland that he could be dropped from the Test side, if he isn't playing well. 

The Welsh flanker will lead the tourists against New South Wales on Saturday, despite calls for in-form pair Justin Tipuric and Sean O'Brien to be selected ahead of him. 

Warburton, who is still recovering from a knee injury and has played just 74 minutes on the tour so far, is set to be part of a 'shadow side' alongside the likes of Tom Croft and Jamie Heaslip, as Gatland searches for his best team. 

"I have been 100% consistent from day one. It is about picking the best players," said Gatland to BBC Sport. 

"I haven't changed that tune, and Sam is well aware of that. I thought he had a good blow-out last week against the Reds, he got a couple of good turnovers, and we will see what happens on Saturday."

But Gatland admits that his skipper's place in the side is far from certain, and insists that the back-row is causing him one of his biggest selection headaches.

"We have far from made up our mind on the loose forward options," he said. "There are a huge amount of combinations, they are all fit and have all done well. That is going to be one of the headaches and the next couple of games will determine that [selection].

"The performance on Saturday is important for Sam, and Jamie [Heaslip] and Tom [Croft] as well. You look at Sean O'Brien's carrying the other night, we know he can play seven as well, then you look at the talent and ability Tom brings and then there is the devastation defensively and tightness Dan Lydiate can bring. The two eights [Heaslip and Toby Faletau] are different types of players as well. It is going to be a long night making that decision."

Gatland's selection will be further complicated when he considers that, while Tipuric shone against both the Barbarians and the Combined Country XI, neither provided the level of breakdown threat that Wallabies will bring, while Warburton's only appearance came against far tougher opponents: the Queensland Reds.

"The more game time I have the better I tend to play, and the more I pick up the feel for the contact area and the speed of the game," said the Lions skipper.

"Last weekend was a good run-out for the lungs and I was obviously very familiar playing with Dan [Lydiate] and Toby [Faletau], but I am looking forward to playing with Tom and Jamie now. 

"Tom has been awesome at line-out in training, and Jamie has been great in attack as a ball-carrier. You want to come on Lions tours to play with different combinations but no-one is reading anything into this selection. There is still a lot to prove and a couple of games to play."

Gatland has indicated he will need players to prove their fitness by early next week so they can be fully involved in Test preparations.


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Topics:
#British & Irish Lions
#Rugby Union
#Sam Warburton