Sam Warburton says revenge is not on the menu

Captain Martyr tells James Corrigan why tomorrow's big match is about a Grand Slam, not his World Cup red-card heartbreak

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The Independent Online

Revenge is a dish best not served at all. Or so they are saying down at Wales base camp. The World Cup semi-final of 2011? Don't even mention it. Bitter losers look backwards; winners stare only ahead.

Certainly, Sam Warburton has his focus on something far richer than mere payback for a perceived injustice. There is only one Grand Slam the Welsh captain is concentrating on, and it is not the one Vincent Clerc took into the Auckland turf four months ago.

"There's been much more important things to think about for the weekend to allow that red card to creep into my mind," said Warburton yesterday, after being named in the starting XV. "My knee has distracted me from thinking about it, to be honest. I was just concentrating on making sure I got that right. Out of all the games I have played in during my career so far, this is the one game I don't want to miss."

It is fair to say that through the valleys, up and down the coast and all across the mountains the feeling was reciprocated. "Sam Our Captain" was immortalised during that World Cup run in a rugby club song which became a YouTube hit. And if anything that dismissal, for a tip-tackle, only made Wales adore their leader more. Captain Marvel became Captain Martyr, the poster boy for the shattered dream.


Well, that martyr rose again and so too did the dream. Victory over Les Bleus will see Wales emulate the famous teams of the Seventies who won three Grand Slams in eight seasons from 1971. Warburton, however, is not quite ready to rank his side alongside those sideburned, side-stepping legends.

"I was fortunate to meet JPR [Williams] the other day and he told me he beat England 11 consecutive times at senior level," he said. "So until we do that I don't think we can be compared to them."

Warburton would have been picked in that Seventies team. There is little doubt about that. Perhaps the easiest way to gauge his influence is to see that he is on the shortlist for the Six Nations player of the tournament – and then recall that he has only played one and a half games. Aware of his quality, France will afford him what can generously be described as "special attention". They have done so already.

"It's felt like I've been a targeted man the last few games," he said. "You feel cheap shots coming in left, right and centre. That's part and parcel. I've played France twice and I haven't made it past the 20-minute mark on both occasions. The first time [in the 2011 Six Nations] I got injured and then the semi-final. So it would be nice to stay on a bit longer this time."

Not that Warburton is prepared to go into hiding in order to remain active. Expect him to be wherever the niggle is nastiest and the heat is hottest.

"I suppose it is a compliment if they do target me and no, it doesn't bother me," he said. "In fact, I play openside because I like all the physicality and all the confrontation. I started out in school playing on the wing but I didn't get involved enough in the physical stuff for my liking. Look at the French selection – they've gone for a big, big pack and it's obvious they want it to be brutal up front. Happy days."

Warburton is not averse to pain. As a teenager he captained Wales in the Under-20 World Cup semi-final and played for 40 minutes with a dislocated shoulder, an injury which was to keep him out for fourth months. At Twickenham last month he played 70 minutes with the knee injury that he first sustained against France last year. On both occasions it was his choice to ignore the agony and stay on.

This time it was the medics' decision for him to get on. He only convinced them on Wednesday to give the head coach, Warren Gatland, the green light.

"I was nervous they'd say I wasn't up to it, but I came through training and have no qualms – I could play if the game was today," he said. "There's so much motivation to play, so much more than making it personal. But I do want to go head-to-head with Thierry [Dusautoir, the French flanker and captain]. He's the world player of the year and someone I respect very highly. Yeah, it would be good to give it a go for the full 80."

If Warburton manages to do that and, as many are sure he will, comes out on top, then it will be hard to imagine anything other than another day of glory in the Welsh capital. Gareth Edwards was also a 23-year-old captain when he won the Grand Slam in 1971 and the comparisons will be obvious. Warburton was 17 years away from existence at the time, though, and he will look to more recent triumphs for inspiration.

"I remember watching the 2005 and '08 Grand Slams on my sofa," he said. "They are what motivated me to play rugby, really. Those were the occasions I always wanted to be a part of and it was always with the ambition of playing in games like this. That's why I feel so privileged to be here. It's going to be the biggest game of my career by far. I really cannot wait."