Rugby World Cup 2011: Warburton overcomes Wales captaincy fears

Sam Warburton says he has grown into his role as Wales captain at the World Cup despite his initial reservations.

The Cardiff Blues player captained his country for the first time against the Barbarians in June and got the nod for the World Cup due to an injury to Matthew Rees.

Warburton will lead Wales against France in the World Cup semi-final in Auckland on Saturday.

"It was something I was concerned with at the start," he admitted.

"When I was asked to do against the Baa-Baas [in June], I couldn't turn it down because I thought it would be a one-off opportunity.

"Later on there was actually a real good chance that I could be captain for the World Cup.

"I did have a chat with Warren about it and Andy McCann the psychologist, who I'm pretty close with.

"I said to them my concerns and things I wasn't comfortable doing, small things like having a room on your own.

"I'd just rather room with the boys so I could have a chat and it keeps me calm.

"They talked me around and after doing it a few times I've found it so much easier now.

"Being here in New Zealand away from home it's not like the goldfish bowl it is back in Wales. It feels like all the eyes are on the All Blacks.

"Since I've been here it's been pretty easy and all the players have backed me and supported me and it's been an easy transition to be honest.

"Matthew [Rees] did a great job beforehand so I haven't really changed much."

Warburton won his first senior cap as a replacement against the United States in 2009, a year after leading Wales Under-20s at the IRB Junior World Championship.

And while Warburton is among the squad's younger generation, the skipper has acknowledged the input of Wales' experienced players in New Zealand.

Seven of the players who will start against the French on Saturday - Shane Williams, James Hook, Mike Phillips, Gethin Jenkins, Huw Bennett, Adam Jones and Alun Wyn Jones - were members of Wales' Grand Slam-winning side in 2008, with two more - Ryan Jones and Stephen Jones - on the bench.

And Warburton says their experience will prove valuable against Marc Lievremont's side at Eden Park.

"There's still a lot of guys there who have got plenty of international experience which is why it's not too daunting," said the 23-year-old, Wales' youngest World Cup skipper.

"They've won Grand Slams, they've played in Heineken Cups and a lot of boys have experienced a high level of rugby already.

"As a captain, guys like Ryan Jones and other senior players do help out and it makes my job a hell of a lot easier."

Wales have only beaten France once during Warren Gatland's reign, a 29-12 win at the Millennium Stadium which secured the Grand Slam in 2008.

But Warburton believes past results will have no bearing on Saturday's game, which will be the 89th meeting between the countries.

"I've been involved in a squad to face France twice now and both times we lost," added Warburton.

"It's a World Cup and like the results have shown so far, I think anything can happen and that's why this game's wide open.

"I don't think history counts for anything when it gets to a semi-final stage of a World Cup.

"To us it's just Wales v France - it's not a World Cup semi final. That's how we are going to approach it mentally.

"Everyone's buzzing with confidence after last week's performance. We're looking forward to the game."


Wales: Leigh Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues); George North (Scarlets), Jonathan Davies (Scarlets), Jamie Roberts (Cardiff Blues), Shane Williams (Ospreys); James Hook (Perpignan), Mike Phillips (Bayonne); Gethin Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), Huw Bennett (Ospreys), Adam Jones (Ospreys), Luke Charteris (Dragons), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys), Dan Lydiate (Dragons) Sam Warburton (Cardiff Blues, capt), Toby Faletau (Dragons).

Replacements: Lloyd Burns (Dragons), Paul James (Ospreys), Bradley Davies (Cardiff Blues), Ryan Jones (Ospreys), Lloyd Williams (Cardiff Blues), Stephen Jones (Scarlets), Scott Williams (Scarlets).

France: Maxime Medard; Vincent Clerc, Aurelien Rougerie, Maxime Mermoz, Alexis Palisson; Morgan Parra, Dimitri Yachvili; Jean-Baptiste Poux, William Servat, Nicolas Mas, Pascal Pape, Lionel Nallet, Thierry Dusautoir (capt), Julien Bonnaire, Imanol Harinordoquy.

Replacements: Dimitri Szarzewski, Fabien Barcella, Julien Pierre, Fulgence Ouedraogo, Francois Trinh-Duc, Jean-Marc Doussain, Cedric Heymans.