Wales v France, Rugby World Cup, October 15, 2011
Halfpenny hails "inspirational" Warburton
October 13, 2011
Leigh Halfpenny has impressed at fullback in the World Cup © Getty Images
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 fullback 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 ten days after celebrating his 23rd birthday, Warburton will lead Wales into a World Cup semi-final against France at Eden Park. And Halfpenny 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 Thursday'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, supporting us. A lot of people didn't really expect us to come this far, whereas we did. From the very start of our preparations, everything was geared to get to this stage of the tournament.
"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 for this trophy, and that has never gone away. It has also come from our captain, who is very professional and reminds us after a game that our job is not done yet. If we win this trophy, I am sure there will be plenty of celebrating done then.
"But our job is not done, and Saturday is a massive game for us. To play in a World Cup final would be a dream come true for every single player and everyone involved."
Halfpenny excelled when Wales defeated quarter-final opponents Ireland in Wellington last weekend, relishing the fullback role he had long coveted. And he is braced for Les Bleus' anticipated aerial bombardment, admitting: "I imagine it will be a busy day at the office on Saturday in terms of owning the sky, as I like to put it.
"There are a lot of aerial battles when you play at fullback. I have been used to it for most of my career, and I have always loved that part of the game, getting up for the high ball.
"Putting that ball up in the air is a massive weapon that teams use. If that is what happens this weekend, we have got to execute every single one as well as we can and make sure we are mistake-free."
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