Rugby World Cup 2011: Warren Gatland proud of Wales youngsters

Dan Lydiate, Sam Warburton and Toby Faletau
Lydiate, Warburton and Faletau have impressed as a unit at the World Cup

Coach Warren Gatland has praised the impact of the previously unheralded youngsters who he hopes will inspire Wales in their World Cup quarter-final.

They will be up against an experienced Ireland side in Saturday's last-eight game for a shot at playing in their first World Cup final.

"We arrived in New Zealand with no-one really knowing anything about some of our youngsters," said Gatland.

"I'd like to think they have made an impression since they arrived here."

Teenage wing George North, fly-half Rhys Priestland, centres Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies and back-rowers Sam Warburton, Toby Faletau and Dan Lydiate are all tipped to start against Ireland in Wellington and all are under 24.

Wing Leigh Halfpenny, centre Scott Williams and scrum-half Lloyd Williams have also impressed in New Zealand as Wales start their knock-out campaign trailing only the All Blacks in points scored during the tournament.

Only the hosts and Australia have scored more tries than the Welsh in the World Cup and Wales' experienced British and Irish Lions scrum-half Mike Phillips believes Gatland's youngsters are inspiring their older colleagues.

"The boys have a quiet confidence about them," said Phillips, who is set to win his 58th cap on Saturday.

"There is no arrogance at all. They just want to get on with the job and work hard.

"It's a pleasure to be in the squad and to be around these great people.

"They [the youngsters] are leading the way and it is inspiring for everyone."

Wales have progressed further than the last eight only once at a World Cup, when they finished third at the inaugural tournament in 1987.

Ireland's pairing of Brian O'Driscoll and Ronan O'Gara have more than 330 caps between them, compared with a combined total of 96 caps between Roberts, Davies, Priestland, North and Halfpenny.

Wales' new-look back row have impressed in New Zealand but Lydiate, Faletau and Warburton, the youngest captain in World Cup history, will face arguably the best back-row unit in the tournament when they clash with Irish trio Stephen Ferris, Sean O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip.

But Phillips is confident Wales' youngsters can succeed against Ireland's golden generation.

"They are so physical, busting tackles and off-loading," said Phillips.

"We have a good blend - it's a great group. The atmosphere is great in the camp and there is no end of talent there."

Phillips praised record-breaking 19-year-old powerhouse North, who became the youngest World Cup try-scorer in Wales' 81-7 Pool D win over Namibia.

The 16 stone, 6ft 4in wing has scored nine tries in 12 Wales appearances and Phillips joked: "He's immense, he is still only about 14 now and he's bossing the tournament."