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Sam Warburton: Reaching World Cup semis would be great achievement

Sam Warburton believes it would be "a better achievement" than in New Zealand four years ago if Wales reach the World Cup semi-finals on Saturday.

Wales arrived at the penultimate knockout stage in 2011, when they bowed out 9-8 to France after Warburton was sent off.

This time around, though, Wales emerged from unquestionably the toughest pool in World Cup history, qualifying alongside Australia as England and Fiji were both eliminated, and they have also overcome repeated injury setbacks involving key players.

South Africa now await at the last-eight stage, with Wales not having claimed a World Cup victory over the Springboks, New Zealand or Australia since downing third place play-off opponents the Wallabies 28 years ago.

"The body is normally in a pretty bad state after we play them (South Africa)," Wales skipper Warburton said. "It is a really good physical challenge.

"When you get to this level there are not too many weaknesses in teams, so it is not really about trying to exploit a weakness in South Africa, because I don't really think they have any. It's more just trying to stop what they are pretty good at.

"It's a big job up-front, so we have to be very good there.

"The boys were pretty tired after the Australia game (last Saturday). It is just making sure the energy is right this weekend and you have got a full tank to go again. The boys are in a good place at the moment.

"I think it would be a better achievement than four years ago because it has been a tougher route to get there.

"If we manage to get to the semi-finals this World Cup, it would be awesome, purely because in the last World Cup we didn't beat a southern hemisphere team, and that is a target of mine - beating a southern hemisphere team when it matters."

Had Wales taken their opportunities when Australia were temporarily down to 13 men last Saturday, then they might easily have topped the group and faced a last-eight appointment with Scotland on Sunday instead.

"There were were a lot of chances that we blew," Warburton added. "Looking back on that 10-minute period when they had a couple of guys in the sin-bin and we went over the line two or three times, I watched the video back and I can't believe we didn't go over and get a try.

"I think they are easy fixes, which is a good thing. It's not as if we were outplayed by Australia. They defended incredibly well but we just needed to look up once or twice and we would have seen a glaring overlap.

"As everyone knows, hindsight is a wonderful thing. Australia did deserve to win because they defended so well, but I think we can take a lot of confidence out of that game. I back Australia to get to the final.

"I don't think the players will feel any more pressure with this game. If you look across our team and so many guys have been involved in big Lions Tests, World Cup matches and Grand Slam games.

"Players never talk about history or psychological battles. I think that's irrelevant. I am always the optimist. Tottenham Hotspur (Warburton is a Spurs fan) could be playing Man United and I always think they are going to win.

"It's just the way I am. It doesn't matter who you play or what record you've got, you have always got a chance of winning, otherwise nobody would watch sport if the underdog never won.

"We have got some good tough games under our belt which will prepare us well for this quarter-final. We have got an excellent chance of winning and I am confident we can do so."

Warburton, meanwhile, paid tribute to team-mate Alun-Wyn Jones, who clocks up 100 appearances for Wales and the Lions this weekend.

He said: "I don't want to embarrass him, but if someone had to ask me who are the best players I've played with, then I would say players like Gethin Jenkins, Alun-Wyn Jones, Shane Williams, Martyn Williams - he's in that bracket.

"We are very fortunate to have a player of his experience and stature and he is not slowing down whatsoever. He has probably got 150 caps in him, I reckon."


From Belfast Telegraph