Rugby World Cup 2011
Gatland tips Warburton to shine
ESPNscrum Staff
September 9, 2011
Sam Warburton slides in to score Wales' second try against Italy, Italy v Wales, Six Nations, Stadio Flaminio, Rome, Italy, February 26, 2011
Wales boss Warren Gatland is expecting big things from flanker Sam Warburton © PA Photos

Wales boss Warren Gatland believes that Sam Warburton will prove himself one of the finest opensides in the game during the 2011 World Cup.

Warburton will lead his country in Sunday's Pool D clash with South Africa and in doing so become Wales' youngest ever World Cup captain. That in itself will place a lot of pressure on the shoulders of a player who is just 22 years and 341 days old. However, Gatland believes that Warburton is a truly special talent and he expects him to excel in New Zealand.

"There are three definite what I consider world-class (openside) players at the moment in terms of (David) Pocock, (Richie) McCaw and Heinrich Brussow," said Gatland. "And I would rate Sam in that category as well. A lot of people haven't seen a lot of Sam Warburton, but I think he will create an impact after a few games in this World Cup."

How Warburton copes with Springbok openside Heinrich Brussow is likely to prove key to the outcome of the game in Wellington, with Gatland admitting: "Brussow caused a few problems in 2009 against the Lions. He is a genuine openside in terms of getting on the ball and creating turnovers."

As for Warburton, he has no first-hand experience of just how formidable a foe Brussow can be, but he is looking forward to the challenge of pitting himself against the Springbok No.7.

"I haven't played against Brussow yet, but I have been watching clips of him and he is incredibly effective in that area (the breakdown)," he said. "He's one of the better players in the world at the breakdown at the moment."

Wales have not beaten the Springboks since June 1999 but they have run the South Africans close in their last three meetings and Gatland is taking great heart from his side's performances in those games.

"The last three or four times we have played them we've been in a position to win," said Gatland. "Some of the losses were a little bit our own downfall in terms of accuracy at key moments. It's just working hard to get over the line. We are not going into this game hoping they have a bad day and hoping everything goes well for us.

"We are going into this game with some confidence. We've had a good preparation period and physically feel in great shape. We are looking forward to Sunday.

"It is fairly obvious which way they are going to play the game - they are going to take us on up front, which is what we expected. They want to dominate you physically, and it wasn't a surprise to us that they went for a 5/2 split on the bench."

Gatland, meanwhile, sprung something of a surprise by dropping Lee Byrne for this weekend's game to accommodate the versatile James Hook at fullback and deploy youngster Rhys Priestland at fly-half and the Kiwi explained that he simply wanted to get as many of his in-form attacking players in to the back-line as possible.

"We are trying to get one of our best players on the field in James Hook," he said. "There was a comment from Gwyn Jones a few weeks ago when he said James was probably the best Welsh 10, the best Welsh centre and the best Welsh full-back.

"We were really impressed with Rhys in the first couple of warm-up games (against England), and we felt that combination with James at 15 and having two attacking players at first receiver, with James being able to do that as well, gives us an opportunity.

"Rhys has confidence, he has got a very good balance in his game. He is an effective runner, has a good boot on him and he has that self-belief you look for as a coach."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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