Sam Warburton says he has to 'win stripes all over again' for Cardiff Blues
Sam Warburton says he will have to "win his stripes all over again" when he returns to action for Cardiff Blues next season.
The British and Irish Lions captain has not played since the drawn series against New Zealand last year after having knee surgery and a neck injury.
In contrast, his team-mates and fellow flankers Josh Navidi and Ellis Jenkins have shone for both club and country.
"I have to start from scratch," said 29-year-old Warburton.
"Reputations, and I know it, won't count for anything.
"The one thing you don't want is to become complacent, by assuming you're going to get in the team.
"I've said to coaches in the past, 'if you don't want me, don't pick me'."
Navidi was recently named Welsh Rugby Writers' Association player of the year, but is a doubt for the Wales summer tour after injuring his shoulder during the Blues' Challenge Cup final victory.
Jenkins, who has captained the Blues in Gethin Jenkins' absence this season, has been named Wales' co-captain for the tour with Dragons' Cory Hill.
Warburton, who led Wales on 48 occasions, said he cannot afford to be complacent when he returns with so many talented back-rowers in the squad.
With the likes of Navidi, Jenkins, Nick Williams, Josh Turnbull and Olly Robinson, he said the Blues have got a "fantastic group of back-row boys".
"This may sound a bit arrogant but I can't remember many back-rows getting the better of us," said Warburton.
"The back-row is in a very good place at the moment. You just need that across the board."
Warburton said the strength and depth in his position, not just for the Blues but also for Wales, makes him "want to work harder behind closed doors".
"I'm starting off with the mentality of an academy player who's coming through and has to win his stripes all over again," he said.
"I'm looking forward to that. I've been going now for a good few months so I should have pretty much a full five months pre-season under my belt by the time I get back and play."
He is hoping to feature in the Blues' pre-season games against Leicester and Exeter.
"If I'm out for two to three months, I need more than a game to get back. So having 14 months out, a couple of pre-season friendlies would be handy to get back to full fitness."