CARDIFF, Wales (AP) — Sam Warburton says letting go of the Wales captaincy will make him a better rugby player.
Warburton led the Welsh a record 49 times from 2011 until last week, when he agreed with interim coach Rob Howley to give the captaincy to lock Alun Wyn Jones for the Six Nations.
Warburton said there was no single defining moment in the decision, just an accumulation of talks with Howley, a former Wales skipper himself, during and since the November internationals.
The flanker missed most of those games because he was injured, but Howley told him he was no longer an automatic pick, and asked him if he would consider moving to the No. 6 spot.
To Warburton, it was music to his ears.
"The one thing I said to Rob and (coach) Warren (Gatland) in the past, the only problem I had with captaincy was that you don't want to get complacent and expect to be picked in the team," he said on Monday.
"That's why this is great now. There are so many good sixes and sevens in the squad, that you have really got to bring your A game just to get in the 23. That's what I want, to try to bring the best out of me.
It makes me have to work even harder than before to get in the team. Not having the captaincy now will allow me to do that even more."
Warburton said the captaincy has always been a bonus to him. He almost rejected the request in 2011, and was glad he hadn't because leading Wales had made him a better person and player. As the skipper, he led Wales to two Six Nations titles, and a Rugby World Cup semifinal.
"It has been lovely while I've done it, but I can enjoy my rugby without it," he said.
Being captain should come naturally to Jones, because he'd been a senior leader for so long, Warburton added.
"He has more experience than me at international level, he's seen pretty much everything in this game," he said. "The role he has played probably won't change too much, really, because he has had such a massive influence on the squad since I have been captain.
"All he has to do is keep doing what he is doing, then all he does is take the armband on to that field when it is test match time. For Alun, I think it will be a nice smooth transition. He will be able to cope with that fine."
Wales opens the Six Nations on Feb. 5 against Italy in Rome.