The debate currently raging across Wales revolves around whether Cardiff Blues Sam Warburton or Ospreys Justin Tipuric should be handed the much-coveted No.7 jersey, but former captain and Grand Slam winner Michael Owen insists the two could – and should – be playing together.
Warburton, 24, skippered Wales to a third Grand Slam in eight years earlier this season but he has struggled for form in the RaboDirect PRO12 this season, as have the Blues.
Tipuric, 23, has been flying for the Ospreys however, picking up from where he left off last term when he helped his province to the RaboDirect PRO12 title and he was recently labelled ‘the best No.7 in Britain’ by Ospreys team-mate Joe Bearman.
On the international stage, Warburton was selected for Wales’ home defeat to Argentina but then made way for Tipuric, who struggled to make an impact in another disappointing loss to Samoa last weekend.
Against world champions New Zealand, Warburton has been restored to the starting line-up with Tipuric dropping to the bench but while the pair are both viewed as specialist openside flankers, and therefore vying for the same spot, former Wales and Newport Gwent Dragons No.8 Owen is convinced there is room in the side for both.
“I think it’s great that Justin is getting the opportunity because in the past year he has been in unbelievable form,” added Owen.
“But I think they can both play together. Sam Warburton has the ability to play anywhere in the back row. He’s big and strong and athletic, he’s good in the lineout, he works really hard and he has a terrific amount of ability.
“Justin has shown he’s an excellent player and there’s no reason why they couldn’t play in the back row together.
“If you look at it perhaps [the summer tour to Australia] was the time to give Justin Tipuric a go, he was in such great form and it would have been the ideal chance to give Sam a rest. Looking back that was probably the moment.”
It was unclear whether Warburton was dropped or rested for the match against Samoa but after being recalled to the side to face the All Blacks, it’s more likely it was the latter.
Owen however, believes there is no harm in dropping the Blues skipper, claiming it could do him some good.
“It’s hard to say whether Sam was dropped or whether he was rested for Samoa,” added Owen.
“There were always going to be changes against Samoa as you want players fresh for New Zealand.
“I don’t think it would be the worst thing for Sam to be honest. Sometimes when you have everyone praising you and talking you up in the papers you can believe your own press a bit and forget what got you to where you were.
“I don’t know if this is what has happened to Sam but if he’s dropped then he’ll have time to take a step back and look at what he needs to do. Sometimes you can get a bit complacent, you don’t mean to but it is just human nature. Sam has a big future ahead of him with Wales, I’m sure he’ll come back stronger.”