Saturday 16 December 2017

Warburton laughs off grudge talk over Rolland's World Cup red card

Steve James

Warren Gatland, the Wales head coach, may take a different view ahead of Saturday's Test against South Africa, but Sam Warburton is not concerned about Alain Rolland refereeing Wales for the first time since he sent off the captain in the 2011 Rugby World Cup semi-final against France.

"It won't have any bearing on how I behave," Warburton said. "I met Alain during the last Six Nations. He came into the changing-room before the Italy match – he was on the touch – and I said hello and shook his hand.

"I've never spoken to him about it and I don't think I ever will either."

It has been reported that Gatland will not attend the traditional pre-Test meeting with Rolland this week but, as Warburton explained, the coach was at an International Rugby Board meeting yesterday talking about referees anyway.

"He is going to find out what the refs are looking for," Warburton explained. "I guess because he has gone to that, (meeting Rolland) is less important."

Warburton was in jocular mood talking about that infamous tip tackle on Vincent Clerc that earned him an 18th-minute red card and a three-match ban, and was a major factor in Wales' 9-8 defeat.

Asked how he reflected upon it now, he quipped: "My head was on the wrong side. It should have been a left-shoulder tackle not right-shoulder. It still comes up sometimes while I'm shopping, someone will shout, 'It was never a red card,' from another aisle.

"I joke about it now, saying it was a PR stunt because nobody knew who I was then and I guess it has put me on the map."

The winning Lions captain is reinstalled as Wales captain after starting the final two matches of last season's Six Nations in the ranks, with Gatland handing a debut to 21-year-old Ospreys wing Eli Walker in the absence of the injured Alex Cuthbert.

"I'm really excited for him," said Warburton of Walker. "He's an immense talent, exceptionally quick. We only need to give him a little bit of space and he can score."

Scott Williams replaces the injured Jamie Roberts and Rhys Priestland returns at out-half after missing all of the Six Nations. Bradley Davies partners Alun Wyn Jones at lock, while Lions flanker Dan Lydiate is selected having missed all of Wales' Tests last season through injury.

Wales have beaten South Africa only once and have lost to Australia, their other main autumn opponents (they also play Tonga and Argentina) in their past eight encounters. Warburton admitted that they now had to overcome a significant mental hurdle.

"You don't like to admit it but maybe it is psychological," he said.

"Until you have done it in a Welsh shirt, it won't be the same. I think the Welsh players can take massive confidence from the Lions but until we beat a southern-hemisphere side, we cannot call ourselves contenders for the World Cup."

And maybe surprisingly, Warburton was delighted with England's victory over Australia.

"You get some die-hard Welsh fans who are disappointed," he said, "but I'm really happy because I want the northern hemisphere to become dominant, not just Wales."

Warburton, who was named International Player of the Year by the French rugby magazine 'Midi Olympique', is confident of victory over the South Africans.

"All 23 boys expect to win on Saturday," he said. "There won't be massive celebrations if we do, because we feel we are good enough and that is what should be expected of us." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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