Jones salutes Wales' kid-captain

by staff

Ryan Jones knows exactly what it takes to be captain of Wales and he says Sam Warburton fits the bill perfectly.

Warburton, 23, is the youngest player ever to lead his country at a Rugby World Cup but the Cardiff Blues man has won plaudits from all quarters in New Zealand for the maturity he has displayed in the role.

Former skipper and teammate Jones counts himself as one of his fellow flanker's admirers.

"Sam is a great kid who has done nothing but lead by example," said the 30-year-old, who was relieved of the captaincy 11 months ago after nearly three years in charge.

"He is inspirational in the way he conducts himself on the field and off it. Age is just a number when you have got someone who commands that much respect.

“He is very receptive and he is full of ideas when you have a chat. There is a role for players like myself who just try to facilitate others, helping him with his role and making sure he is comfortable, so it becomes a natural progression and he is able to excel the way he has been.”

Warburton was only appointed Wales captain in August after the previous incumbent, hooker Matthew Rees, suffered a neck injury that sidelined him from World Cup contention.

Second fiddle

Warburton, who was not born in 1987 when Wales last featured in the last four of a World Cup, will play a key role when his team play France for a place in the final at Eden Park on Saturday. A string of inspirational displays for his country have led to comparisons with world-class Australia flanker David Pocock.

“When Sam plays there is definitely more of an air of confidence around," said Wales defence coach Shaun Edwards. "Even if his stomach was churning, you wouldn't know it.

“He is not a captain who says a great deal but his pure presence on the pitch and his standard of play make everyone feel that bit better when he plays.”

With Warburton leading the way, the Welsh are full of confidence as they prepare for the semi-final against France.

While Jones, who plays his club rugby in Wales for Ospreys, may be playing second fiddle to his young skipper, he does not mind at all. There was a point three weeks ago he feared he was headed home because of a nagging calf injury.

“It's been a hell of a six weeks for me," he said. “Three weeks ago I had my plane ticket booked and I was going home. I'm still here and I'm still figuring. I am thoroughly enjoying it and crikey, we're in the semi-final of a World Cup. I'm trying to contribute and be a part of it as much as I can be.

“At this time of the tournament, you can’t afford to be turning the ball over, kicking loosely and missing tackles because you get punished more heavily at this end of the tournament and that is what it boils down to. And there is no second chance.”