Wales v France, Rugby World Cup, October 15, 2011
Jones hails Warburton's leadership
ESPNscrum Staff
October 11, 2011
Wales' Ryan Jones carries the ball into space against Fiji, Waikato Stadium, Hamilton, New Zealand, October 2, 2011
Ex-Wales skipper Ryan Jones has described Sam Warburton's leadership as inspiration ahead of the World Cup semi-final © Getty Images

Former Wales captain Ryan Jones has hailed Sam Warburton's Rugby World Cup leadership as nothing less than "inspirational".

Jones skippered his country 27 times - just one behind the Wales record held by Ieuan Evans - but lost the captaincy almost 12 months ago after Wales were held 16-16 at home by Fiji.

Hooker Matthew Rees took over for the subsequent Six Nations Championship, but when he suffered a World Cup-ending neck injury weeks before the tournament, Warburton took over.

In his nine games at the helm, 23-year-old Warburton has led Wales to seven victories, helping them generate momentum towards Saturday's World Cup semi-final appointment with France at Eden Park.

"Sam is a great kid who has done nothing but lead by example on and off the field," Ospreys back-row forward Jones said. "He is inspirational in the way he conducts himself on the field and the manner in which he has been playing.

"And likewise, off the field. Age is just a number when you have got someone who commands that much respect. He's very receptive to ideas and having a chat. There is a role for players like myself, helping him with his role and making sure he's comfortable so it doesn't distract from the way he is playing and he is able to excel the way he has done."

Jones, 30, is likely to be on the bench providing back-row cover for Warburton, Dan Lydiate and Toby Faletau this weekend - but his World Cup could easily have ended just a few weeks ago due to persistent calf muscle trouble.

"It has been a hell of a six weeks for me," he said. "Three weeks ago, I had my plane ticket booked and I was going home, but I am still here and I am still figuring. I am thoroughly enjoying it. Crikey, we are in the semi-final of a World Cup, and I am still trying to contribute and be as much a part of that as I can be."

Wales have arrived in the last four after successive victories over Samoa, Namibia, Fiji and Ireland, and Jones has no doubt it will be business as usual this week despite the game's colossal stakes.

"There are no second chances," he said. "It is about putting yourself in a position to give you the best possible opportunity of winning the game. It was a far better French performance [against England] than they had shown throughout the tournament. To get to this end of the tournament and progress, you need every individual to be on top of his game.

"People like [Imanol] Harinordoquy, and from numbers one to 15, when they get it right on the day they are an incredibly difficult team to play against. The threat that France pose is a very complete one.

"They are quite happy and comfortable to mix it up with you physically, and yet we all know what they are capable of if you get into loose play with them. You can end up chasing shadows. I have been involved in all sorts of games against France over the years where we've won, lost and come off hugely second-best. You just don't know."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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