Wales dedicate play-off to Warburton
October 19, 2011
Sam Warburton walks off after being red carded against France © Getty Images
Wales will dedicate their final game of the Rugby World Cup to absent captain Sam Warburton when they aim for a third-place finish at Australia's expense on Friday.
Warburton misses the bronze medal match at Eden Park following his dismissal for a dangerous tackle on France wing Vincent Clerc in last weekend's semi-final. He subsequently landed a three-week ban, but the 23-year-old's influence on the squad he has led so impressively will not be forgotten.
"We said at half-time during the game with France that we wanted to do it for Sam," Wales fly-half James Hook said. "It didn't happen, but he has been immense for us - not just during the World Cup, but since he started playing for Wales.
"It would be great to get something for him and pay him back. It would be great to win something for him because he has been immense."
Hook gains another chance at fly-half, retained in the critical playmaker's role despite a scratchy performance against France. The Perpignan-bound star missed two of his three kicks at goal, and he was then replaced by Stephen Jones just after half-time as Wales looked to keep alive their World Cup hopes.
"It was bitterly disappointing in the last game for everyone, and especially for myself," Hook added. "I am delighted to get an opportunity to put it behind me and get on with what should be a huge challenge on Friday night.
"Obviously, the missed kicks proved vital at the end of a game we lost by a point. That is what it came down to at the end of the day. It was difficult when we were down to 14 men, but we are not making excuses for Sam or myself. We've all taken it on the chin and realised how disappointed we are.
"We know the size of the challenge we face to come third in this tournament and to finish on a high."
The performances of Wales' younger generation - players like Warburton, Toby Faletau, Dan Lydiate and Jonathan Davies - has led to Welsh Rugby Union chief executive Roger Lewis forecasting a golden era for the squad. And while the semi-final defeat was a great opportunity missed, Wales would appear to be fine shape for a major World Cup assault in England four years from now.
"There is no reason why we cannot have a go in four years' time," Hook said. "The semi-final loss is tough to take, but this team can go on and become a better team and get to these positions in future.
"It is important to keep our confidence up and express ourselves the way we have done throughout the tournament. If we can claim a Tri-Nations scalp in the southern hemisphere that will give us massive confidence going into the Six Nations later this season."
As for the semi-final against Les Bleus, the WRU will once again offer free tickets for a big screen viewing at the Millennium Stadium. More than 60,000 attended last Saturday. And Hook added: "We want to go out and perform for the fans who turned up in Cardiff last week, for ourselves and for our families.
"We want to put it right so we can go home with something to look back on. It's been a good tournament for us - we would have taken this at the start - but we lost a semi-final and we want to go home with something."
The play-off clash, meanwhile, will mark Wales wing Shane Williams' final World Cup appearance in what looks certain to be his last season before retiring from international rugby.
"I think he could go on for another year or two at least," Hook said. "He's fit, and if he does decide to retire it will be a huge loss for Wales. He is an outstanding player and person, on and off the pitch. He hasn't changed one bit since I first met him, which is a credit to him and his family."
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