Ben Warburton: Twin trouble but little jealousy

The Wales captain's brother talks to James Corrigan about his sibling's meteoric rise – and how it feels to be mistaken for the new national hero when he is 12,000 miles away...

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The Independent Online

So there the young Welshman was yesterday, walking his two dogs in a Cardiff park when a couple stopped him in his tracks. "Erm, shouldn't you be in New Zealand?" they asked, incredulity surging through every syllable.

Ben Warburton resisted replying he had to come home for a few days as Ted and Gus were desperate for the exercise. Instead he told them: "No, I'm not Sam, I'm his twin brother." Once a rare and rather humorous occurrence, in the last month or so this has become a daily ritual for the 23-year-old.

"It's happening all the time," he said. "Sam's a big figure in Wales now. As captain, his face is all over the newspapers and TV. Only now, when I was coming home with the dogs, two guys drove past, honked the horn and shouted 'Warbi!' God knows what they thought. When I do put people right, sometimes they say, 'Ah, I didn't think you were big enough to be a rugby player'. Cheeky so-and-sos."

Ben was a rugby player, until resigning himself to the fact a year ago he would not make it as a professional. At 5ft 11in and 13 1/2 stones he is four inches shorter and three stones lighter than the brother who is actually three minutes his younger. "He's just a magnified version of me," he said. By the time Ben – a wing with, among others, Cross Keys and Glamorgan Wanderers – decided to concentrate on physiotherapy for a living, he had seen Sam win his first full cap for Wales. Yet, even though Ben insists "we always knew", the speed of the flanker's rise into armbanded super-heroism has stunned the Warburtons. Sam included.

"We thought he had a chance of becoming Wales captain one day, because he'd been the Wales Under-19s and Under-20s captain," said Ben, who is a physio with Newport RFC and the Dragons Academy. "But for this World Cup? Not a chance. Maybe for 2015, we thought, but even then he'd only be 26, 27 and that's quite young for a captain. So when he was picked as skipper for the Baa-Baas and the two England games in the warm-ups, he said 'flipping heck, I think I might be captain for the World Cup'. We had no worries for him, though. Sam's worked so hard to get there. He's been religious in his training and what he eats and drinks and everything since he was 16. He leads by example."

Sam, believes Ben, was born for this role, although he does point out another sport was their first love. "The old man's from London, so we are all massive Tottenham fans – our dogs are named after Sheringham and Poyet," he said. "Our great-grandfather, George Reed, played for Leeds United and we had no history of rugby in the family. We played football seriously for the school and districts until we were 14 and both had trials for Cardiff City. But we decided we had more chance of making it with the Cardiff Blues."

Their decision might just have been influenced by the left-winger who played on that same team at Whitchurch High School. It is fair to say Gareth Bale set the bar quite high. "Sam and I were the centre-halves and our gameplan was 'just clear it and give it to Gareth'," said Ben. "We played with him from about 11 until he was 16. He was like a schoolboy Ronaldinho and, rather like Sam with rugby, you just had to watch him to realise he'd make it. We were so proud when he burst on to the scene so young, particularly when he joined Spurs. But it's funny, Sam always used to be asked about Gareth. Now Gareth is being asked about Sam. As I said, it just shows."

While Gareth will probably always be better-known the world over, in the homeland Sam has the opportunity not only to walk with the legends but actually to head that saintly band. Seemingly everyone in the game has been startled with his leadership thus far.

"No he wasn't bossy growing up," he said. "In fact, it might not come across, but he is actually the joker and always played pranks. So he'd ring up my girlfriend and speak to her for 10 minutes, trying to extract embarrassing info, until she twigged it was him not me. We are very similar and, although I'm not sure about all that twin telepathy stuff, we do find each other singing the same songs. We did the same subjects at A-Level and got exactly the same grades (A,A,B) and we have our own mumbling language that even our parents can't understand. And yes, there were times in school when we swapped over in lessons. They never realised."

But then nature played her cards and Sam shot upwards and forever onwards. "I suppose there is a bit of envy when I see him run out in front of 75,000; but then, let's be honest, I'm a failed sportsman and am bound to feel that way," said Ben, who played alongside Sam at Rhiwbina and the Wanderers. "But I'm not jealous. Yeah, it did my head in when we were in the schoolyard and the sides were being picked it was always Sam first, never me. Yet we've always been best mates."

During the World Cup, Sam has phoned Ben twice, sometimes three times a week, for their half-hourly chats. "I've just spoken to him now as it happens and it's great to hear him so upbeat," said Ben. "Initially he was a bit homesick but now they're at the business end he's buzzing. Sam says he and the squad are confident they'll put in another big performance and beat France."

If that comes to pass, then expect so many Welsh towns to be painted red. Ben is planning his own celebration. "My mum and dad flew over to New Zealand yesterday so I've got the house for two weeks," said Ben, who reveals he has neither the money nor the time off even to consider the trip. "I've been invited to go to the Millennium Stadium and watch it on the big screens with the 50,000-odd there, but I'll watch it in my living room. I'm going out to Cardiff in the night. And I expect it's going to be mental!" With his looks, he might even drink for free.

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