Shane Williams impressed by Wales youngsters

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The Independent Online

Wales' World Cup elder statesman Shane Williams has hailed the "unbelievable" young talent spearheading an improbable bid for global glory.

Williams, who at 34 is the oldest player in Wales' World Cup squad, admits he has been blown away by the performances of a sparkling rising generation throughout the past month.

Players like skipper Sam Warburton, his fellow flanker Dan Lydiate, number eight Toby Faletau, wing George North and centre Scott Williams have all performed pivotal roles in helping Wales secure a semi-final appointment with France next Saturday.

"I am one of the most experienced members of the squad and know what World Cups are about," said Ospreys wing Williams, Wales' record Test try-scorer.

"But it amazes me sometimes how level-headed these youngsters are and how they have taken to it. They haven't got that much experience at international level, but they have self-belief.

"Look at the likes of Leigh Halfpenny, George North and Scott Williams.

"I certainly wasn't that way at their age. The young talent we have got in Wales is unbelievable. There is a different breed coming through with a different mind-set.

"Sometimes, at big tournaments, you have to look after the youngsters, but they haven't let the occasion get to them. They are enjoying the experience but know they have got a job to do.

"We have got a 19-year-old in George. Certainly, at that age, I wouldn't have had a clue and wouldn't have been half as calm."

The Wales squad have settled into their central Auckland base - it is a short walk from the French team hotel - and a sense of calm that has accompanied them all tournament remains, despite next weekend's colossal stakes.

"It's very easy to get carried away," Williams added. "Now we are in Auckland, it's a step-up, but we have to treat it as just another game.

"It's all about winning and trying not to think it is a semi-final. We are a far stronger squad, mentally and physically, than any I have ever been involved in.

"I am sure a lot of the players coming through don't care a monkeys about records, previous matches, previous scores or previous World Cups.

"They just want to get through to this cup final and win it.

"In saying that, they are level-headed enough to know they have not got there yet. We want more, we don't want it to end against France on Saturday."

Williams claimed more than once before the tournament that he felt Wales were good enough to be crowned world champions.

Despite having made his Test debut 12 years ago and been part of Wales squads through thick and thin, very few outsiders listened to Williams' sage-like words.

"When I said before this World Cup that we could win it, I was laughed at," he recalled. "But what has happened just shows the belief and talent was there.

"When you do look at the players, the youngsters and the potential, you do think this Welsh team is good enough to win the World Cup.

"It was the same back in 2007, but maybe the attitude this time is far more positive. It is great to be involved in it at the ripe old age of 34.

"I'm just glad to still be out there keeping up with those young players.

"I've played in a lot of games in the past and been involved in some great rugby, but maybe we didn't have the mental strength to win.

"We would get into a lead against big teams, but sometimes we didn't have the mental strength to hang on to it and win those matches.

"So to win that game against Ireland on Saturday was a step-up because it was close throughout. Mentally, it was one of the best performances I've been involved in.

"I just want to be part of a Welsh side that wins the World Cup. If we do that, I would happily hang up my boots."