Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 December 2014

Wales owe it all to Sam Warburton

Leigh Halfpenny has paid a glowing tribute to Wales' World Cup captain marvel Sam Warburton ahead of the biggest game in Welsh rugby history.



Wales full-back Halfpenny understands Warburton's understated — but inspired — style of leadership more than most.

He grew up with his Cardiff Blues colleague through international age-grade rugby, almost being reduced to tears on one occasion by Warburton's pre-match talk.

Just 10 days after celebrating his 23rd birthday, Warburton will lead Wales into a World Cup semi-final against France at Eden Park.

And Halfpenny (pictured) believes there could hardly be a better man for the occasion.

“I've been captained by Sam all through the age groups, and he is no different now to when he was then,” Halfpenny said.

“He is not a man of many words, but when he does speak it means a lot and it is very inspiring. He just leads from the front, he lets his actions on the field do the talking.

“He is really taking us forward. He speaks very passionately, you know it is coming from the heart, his words of inspiration.

“It is pretty short and sharp just before the game, just those small words that get us up for it. It has worked for me the whole time I have been playing alongside Sam.

“There was a time with Wales Under-18s. We played Scotland, and we had a team meeting the night before the game. I was nearly in tears with what he said. We won the game.”

The scale of Wales' achievement in arriving at the business end of the World Cup was underlined by yesterday's team announcement press conference in their central Auckland hotel, which was attended by more than 100 media from all parts of planet rugby.

More than 50,000 free tickets, meanwhile, have been snapped up for a live big screen showing of Saturday's game at the Millennium Stadium.

And Halfpenny added: “It is mad. I have never seen so much media attention in all my life, but you are at the business end of the competition. For every single one of us, it is all new territory.

“But we are still very tight as a group, like we have been from the very start. That is how we plan to keep it. We have been going about our business and keeping quiet.

“It is obviously working, and we are looking to carry that on into this weekend.

“I have spoken to my friends and family, and they've said the place is going mad back home. Because we are away from it, I don't think we have got a proper sense of it.

“I can imagine the country is going mad, but for us our business isn't done yet. We said when we came here we didn't come to make up the numbers, we came to really contend for this trophy.

“There are no real celebrations going on yet because we have still got our goal to achieve. It is just great to know we have got the whole of Wales behind us.

“It is easy to get carried away with a great win and enjoy it or whatever, but our focus has always been to be real contenders and that has never gone away.

To play in a World Cup final would be a dream come true for every single player.”

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