WARBURTON FITZ THE BILL FOR ME, SAYS LEGEND SEAN; All Blacks Hero Backs Sam to Shine Down Under
Byline: ANDY HOWELL
SAM WARBURTON has revealed he's revelling in the role of Wales skipper after being lauded as "the man" to lead them into battle at the World Cup by one of the greatest captains of all time.
New Zealand legend Sean Fitzpatrick, a World Cup winner in 1987, has tipped the openside flanker for greatness ahead of Wales' Pool D opener with holders South Africa at Wellington Stadium today.
Warburton was handed leadership duties by coach Warren Gatland after hooker Matthew Rees was forced out of the global showpiece by a neck injury.
"Wales have to move on, but injuries are a cruel thing and to be ruled out of a World Cup at this late stage is a real blow for Matthew," said Fitzpatrick.
"But we have already seen with Sam Warburton they have got a quality replacement. The young kid has done a great job and doesn't seem to be too inhibited by the leadership.
"That's the amazing thing in rugby and teams; he's been thrown in at the deep end and he's done an amazing job in the last few weeks captaining the team.
"To lose a player of Matthew's calibre is huge. It's very sad for Matthew but an opportunity for other players as we've seen in previous World Cups.
"It was exactly the same situation for me. I got an opportunity but it's how you take those opportunities and how you deal with it as a team."
Hooker Fitzpatrick, who went on to collect 92 caps for the All Blacks, was a late call-up to the New Zealand squad that lifted the inaugural World Cup after skipper Andy Dalton was ruled out with a hamstring injury.
He played a significant part in New Zealand pocketing the William Webb Ellis trophy and later led the All Blacks 51 times.
Fitzpatrick believes those who have already written off injury-plagued Wales' World Cup chances should think again. "They have got a big group in terms of powerful teams. The scrum will be a key area and they have Adam Jones back at prop but the breakdown is important as well," he stressed.
"And Sam the man and company seemed to really dominate England there during their warm-up match in Cardiff."
Dangerous South Pacific nations Samoa and Fiji, who have both beaten Wales at previous World Cups, and Namibia are also in the so-called 'group of death' with the top two finishers advancing to the quarter-finals.
Warburton didn't pull any punches as he outlined Welsh goals at the World Cup, pin-pointing the importance of getting off to a flyer against South Africa, a country Wales have only beaten once.
"The win is vitally important for us this weekend and if we can get through the group in first place, it would be ideal," he beamed.
"We have to qualify from the group and reach the quarter-finals. Anything else would be disappointing. "We have four games to qualify and however we qualify doesn't matter."
Warburton had never been to New Zealand before but has already crossed paths in Wellington with some of the South Africans he will face today.
"It's my first time here. The people are unbelievably friendly so it makes it a lot easier," he said.
"I have walked past a couple of the Springboks. They are big guys. They say 'hello' and stuff. We are only staying a minute from them so we were bound to bump into to them. And the captaincy has been really good so far."
Asked if he was in it for the long haul, the 17-times capped Warburton replied: "I'm really pleased I'm doing it so, yes, definitely. …