Rugby World Cup 2011
Welsh spirit is key - Bennett
October 4, 2011
Huw Bennett celebrates with Jamie Roberts against Fiji © Getty Images
Huw Bennett believes Wales' impressive World Cup campaign owes much to a couple of key ingredients - hard work and honesty.
And the long-serving Ospreys hooker has also praised the impact of young skipper Sam Warburton on a squad now gearing up for Saturday's quarter-final clash against Six Nations rivals Ireland.
Bennett is taking part in a third World Cup. He first played for Wales as a replacement against Ireland more than eight years ago, with 29 of his 45 caps being won off the bench. He has stepped up to the plate in New Zealand, filling the void created by injured hooker and last season's captain Matthew Rees as Wales now find themselves two wins away from a first World Cup final appearance.
"Where this squad has really excelled has been through its work ethic," Bennett said. "I know it has been publicised a lot, but the guys put a lot of work in pre-season.
"And there is an atmosphere within the squad where you know the guy next to you is going to put in just as much work as you. I think that is important. There is that bond and team spirit which you need, to go out there and play for each other."
Bennett has also hailed the contribution of Warburton, Rugby World Cup's youngest-ever captain at 22, who took over the reins from Rees.
"Sam has been outstanding as captain. He really does lead by example in terms of the work he does," Bennett added. "He is still young for a captain, but you wouldn't see that if you could see how he is gelling the guys and filling the role.
"We've got senior players, and if we feel there is a point to be made, we will raise it, but that is just good team spirit and camaraderie. We have got to be honest with each other, and if we feel someone is not pulling their weight or we need to work on something, the guys should speak up. The way Sam is leading us is second to none."
Bennett's pre-professional rugby career saw him gain caps for England Schools, when his colleagues included the likes of current Bath back Olly Barkley and Gloucester wing James Simpson-Daniel. With the demise of steel-making in his native South Wales town of Ebbw Vale, where Bennett's father was employed at the giant former steel plant, the family moved to the west country.
"I went to Clevedon Comprehensive School and then Bryanston," he recalled. "My father was in the steelworks at Ebbw Vale, and when that started to break apart, he decided to move away then.
"I played against Wales a couple of times. I played against Jonathan Thomas (Wales and Ospreys forward), and I seem to remember he thinks he pinched a lot of our lineout ball - that's one of his stories, anyway."
But while at Swansea University, Bennett attracted interest from the Swansea club and then graduated into the Ospreys senior squad via their academy system. He is now among the senior players in a Wales squad determined to grasp the chance of a lifetime by marching all the way towards their first World Cup final appearance.
"A lot of my caps have come off the bench," said Bennett. "But it is better to be involved in the squad than not be involved at all. When Warren (Wales coach Warren Gatland) first came in - the 2008 Grand Slam season - I got some starts then. But I had some injuries following that, and missed out on the summer tour that year and autumn internationals.
"This is my third World Cup. On the field, I guess I have more involvement and that senior player experience. When I was a young kid I always wanted to be a rugby player. At the time, it was still an amateur sport, but it was always my dream to play."
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