Warburton hails Faletau impact
September 13, 2011
Faletau barges over against South Africa © Getty Images
Wales captain Sam Warburton has hailed his back-row colleague Toby Faletau's "unbelievable" impact on Test match rugby.
No.8 Faletau scored Wales' try and was a constant ball-carrying threat during the agonising 17-16 Pool D defeat against world champions South Africa in Wellington last Sunday. Faletau has won only four caps and is still two months short of his 21st birthday, yet he has already forged one of the current international game's outstanding back-rows alongside Warburton and Dan Lydiate.
"For Toby to be 20-years-old, playing at No.8 in one of the most physical positions in the game, it's unbelievable seeing him putting in the performances he is at the moment," said Warburton. "I enjoyed the game on Sunday. Their back-row is one of the best in the world, and myself, Dan and Toby relished the challenge.
"I always aspire to try to be a good player, and the World Cup is a perfect opportunity to try to do that, but I would swap the man-of-the-match award for a win over the South Africans any day."
Wales, as a consequence of the shattering Springboks loss, are now effectively in a knockout rugby situation entering their final three group fixtures against Samoa, Namibia and Fiji. One more defeat and they will be staring at a pool stage exit, but such was the high level of their display against South Africa that Wales are firmly established as a 2011 World Cup force, having gained many new admirers through the quality they showed.
"I would rather not have the tag of underdog," added Warburton. "I would rather have the tag of being expected to win and people wanting to chase you. Everyone knows how important the game is against Samoa, you don't have to emphasise that. And if we want to be one of the better teams in the world, we have to be used to having that expectation on our shoulders."
Wales were back on the training field in Taupo on Tuesday, a public session watched by several hundred locals, with the welcome sight of Gethin Jenkins and Stephen Jones both participating. Prop Jenkins and fly-half Jones have both had calf muscle injuries, but they are on course to feature in Wales' pool stage programme sooner, rather than later.
"Gethin will start training this week, and he's confident he will be available," said Wales coach Warren Gatland. "We thought our scrum was excellent against South Africa, but we know what a world-class player Gethin is. It's perhaps about thinking how much game-time do we try to give him before the quarter-finals."
Gatland is likely to make few changes for next Sunday's appointment with Samoa in Hamilton, but while reflecting on a memorable display against South Africa, he says the emphasis is on collective improvement.
"In the past, what we have been able to demonstrate is that we've been able to get better as a team as tournaments or tours have gone on," he added. "We've got to make sure we are better in Hamilton on Sunday.
"At the highest level, you have got to take every opportunity that is presented to you. We had a couple of opportunities against South Africa, and we didn't quite nail them. We had 60% territory and possession. Against South Africa, we normally rely on getting 40 or 45%, if we are lucky, because they tend to dominate, but our scrum was good and our lineout was excellent.
"And I was really impressed by the players afterwards. There were four of five them who felt some of the loss at the end was their responsibility. That was pleasing from an individual point of view.
"It's massive within this team. Guys being disappointed, putting their hand up and taking responsibility for some of the errors or mistakes they make. That, to me, is a huge sign in the development of this team.
"We went into that game absolutely believing we were good enough to win. Unfortunately, we lost by a point, and we have got to pick ourselves up from that and start thinking about Samoa."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
The latest Week in Pictures takes in all the action from the weekend when rugby united behind Samoa
England broke their losing streak, but this was not them clawing their way back among the best, writes Tom Hamilton
Wales were just 13 minutes from a famous victory, but the lessons to be learned in defeat are almost exactly the same as those from previous near-misses, writes Huw Richards
Ahead of England's clash with Samoa, Scrum Sevens takes a wander down memory lane and celebrates seven examples of Pacific Islands magic